‘Cronos’ Review: Del Toro’s Finest

Posted in The Screening Room by - October 19, 2015

If for whatever reason, you can’t get your Del Toro fix watching Crimson Peak in the theater (and with the paltry opening at the box office, that may not be for long), you could get a load with his first feature: Cronos. Released in 1993, Cronos was something of an anomaly in Mexican cinema; although there have been plenty of Mexican horror and fantasy films, films of those genres themselves are a rarity and where even more so at the time. At that time films that were being released were Mexican productions that were cheap sex comedies or low budget action films involving “narcos.”

It tells the story of Jesús Gris, the owner of an antique and curiosity shop in Guadalajara, Mexico who comes across the statue of an angel that unleashes cockroaches and one strange bug: a golden, mechanical beetle that attaches to the body of the carrier, sucking blood while providing the wearer with an elixir that rejuvenates and provides longer life: the Cronos device. But besides losing blood, the other catch is that whoever becomes stung by the beetle becomes a vampire.  To make things worse, a mysterious businessman called Dieter de la Guardia and his nephew, the thug Angel are intent on finding the Cronos Device.

This was Del Toro’s debut and it shows; there are many signs of what’s to come in his career including macabre imagery and narrative, Ron Perlman, a contrasting warm and cool color palette, cinematography by Guillermo Navarro and so on. While his imagination and technical prowess are evident in the movie, it doesn’t quite have the fluid camerawork that we see in his later films and although things like the Cronos Device are a feast for the eyes, some aspects of the production design and cinematography seem unpolished.  Also, Perlman and Claudio Brook deliver good performances in English-speaking roles, but there’s a sharp contrast between their dialogue and acting which seems slightly forced in contrast to the more natural acting of their Spanish-speaking counterparts. Perhaps this contrast was intentional, but it remains jarring.

It might seem like I’m not recommending this film, but while it’s a flawed first feature, the movie remains an entertaining and haunting tale. The dehumanization that Jesus goes through before the eyes of his granddaughter Aurora is heartbreaking to watch. She brings a sense of poetry to the film, as the example of a mortal human being caught in this war for immortality.

Although this movie can’t probably be a proper introduction to Del Toro’s work, anyone who’s interested in his films or vampires should check it out at least once. Yes, despite its technical shortcomings, the movie proves that you don’t need a huge budget to make an interesting and visually fascinating film.  If you are in the mood for a rather quiet character piece about vampires, this movie would make an excellent double feature along with George A. Romero’s Martin. And if you haven’t seen this film and need your Del Toro fix, this should definitely do the job. 

Final Say: Watch It

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