cronosposterI admire Guillermo del Toro. He has a clear-eyed view of what he’s doing, and a great sense of energy. But he hasn’t made a perfect film. An obscure purpose, a cheesy script – these are the demons in his way.

Cronos shows his faults, but it shows his strengths too. It’s a vampire story, yet it avoids the Riceisms that have infected the genre. Jesus, the vampire, is not a vaguely homosexual pretty boy – he’s an antiques dealer who lives for his granddaughter, Aurora. Examining a cherub, Jesus finds a strange insect-shaped construction inside: the Cronos device. Activated, it drives a pin into his wrist, which makes him a vampire.

Despite the atypicality of the film, it is not very interesting. Except for the lead, the characters are too quirky to be convincing, not interesting enough to be enjoyed. When Angel (Ron Perlman) tries to get Jesus’s view on a prospective nose job, the scene flops. Angel tries to be an interesting character, not an interesting human. It undermines the threat he poses in the last half of the film – not because he’s silly, but because he isn’t real.

Failures of tone and consistency do not kill the film. Visually, Cronos is fascinating (if not convincingly real): Dieter de la Guardia’s hospice looks like a cross between a hospital and a gothic cathedral (though why he lives on top of a factory isn’t made clear).

When faced with a narrative choice, del Toro takes a different path than most. Jesus never stalks through the night seeking blood. In fact, the only time we see him drink blood is when he follows a nose-bleeder into the bathroom and licks the vitae off the ground. There’s also a resonance to the relationship between Jesus and Aurora. The little girl is subject to many things, including the death and decay of her grandfather, but she takes it with aplomb. After all, he’s her grandfather — she trusts him. Except in the last scene, their love is never used as a sentimental trick. It helps to create a core of reality for a film that has little to do with the real world.

I want to give Cronos a higher grade. Obviously, del Toro wants to make good films (good horror films, by God), and he doesn’t settle for the everyday or the mediocre. Greatness eludes him. Still, give him time. Just give him time.

About Kent Conrad

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