Written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro in 1993 “Cronos” was the director’s first feature film. I knew virtually nothing about the film going into the opening credits. What I found in “Cronos” was an inkling of the director’s stylistic touches that he would eventually become known for. Since Del Toro frequently cites monsters, fantasy, and mythology as the sources that he most draws inspiration from I should have known that his first feature length film would focus on such material. The story follows a unique take on one of film’s oldest fascinations: Vampires. This film takes a new route to reach a familiar destination.
Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) owns and operates an antique shop in Mexico with his granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath) always nearby. She continually prods his sense of familial connection and identity through the knowing eyes of a child. Señor Gris is an old man who seems content in the life he’s living when we meet him. He opens his antiques shop with Aurora on his shoulders and is seen playing hopscotch with her in the next scene on the floor of his shop in between aisles of relics and charms discarded or lost in time. After awhile an anxious and quiet man quickly enters the shop peeking and prodding around. Eventually he tears open the wrapping of an old archangel figurine leaving the face revealed and leaves in a rush. This prompts Señor Gris to give the angel a look. He and Aurora unwrap the two foot tall figure and inspect it. After some investigation he finds a golden scarab device. He curiously taps at it, quickly finding a circular part that winds. Therein lies the weakness of Señor Gris, his curiosity. The Cronos Device then sticks out six sharp legs before stabbing them into his hand.
From that point onward Jesus Gris is a changed man, one with new fascinations, urges, and adverse affects altogether. What I really enjoyed with this film was the tangible sense of family and the charm of this small Mexican family’s life, it really helped to ground the supernatural effects of Jesus Gris’ actions. I also really appreciated the film taking a light body horror touch as the effects of the Cronos Device wound their way through Señor Gris’ humanity. His transformation is slow at first, but by the end of the film he nears all of the typical vampire tropes. The events of the film are prodded along by the antagonists, Dieter De la Guardia (Claudio Brook) owner of the De la Guardia fortune, and his brutish impatient nephew Angel De la Guardia (a young Ron Perlman). Dieter is another old man, but he is dying rapidly and looking for the Cronos Device to secure immortality. His scenes are shot and staged in stark contrast from that of Señor Gris’. Dieter lives in a cold, dark, and sterile environment clinging to what little life he still has while Señor Gris’ scenes are bathed in warm and earthy tones as he plays with his granddaughter and dances with his wife Mercedes (Margarita Isabel).
The film adequately merges a tangible mirror held up to reflect life with Del Toro’s stylistic horror mythology bleeding in from the edges. While this isn’t my favorite of Guillermo Del Toro’s films it’s still a good story told with a deft hand and a clear voice. “Cronos” is definitely worth a watch and can be wonderfully informative on the director’s creative evolution if you appreciate his other works.
Final Score: Two old men and one Cronos Device!