Falling within the so-called revisionist era, “a reflective, introspective late period” of cyclical genre occurrences, Cronos (del Toro, 1993) brings fresh blood (sorry) to the ever evolving Vampire tale. Running through the Horror spectrum from Cronenbergian metamorphosis horror through to the morbid fascination found in Robert Zemeckis’ Horror-Comedy Death Becomes Her (1992), the film explores the disparity between the idea of immortality and the inglorious ramifications of being genuinely unable to die.
A prologue details a 16th Century Mexican alchemist and his creation of a device capable of bestowing immortality on it’s possessor. He is shown 400 years later still alive, but buried under rubble after an earthquake, his heart pierced and his life draining. A further 50 years later, we witness an elderly antique dealer, Jesús Gris (Federico Luppi), discovering the empty hollow at the base of the antique in which the Cronos device was hidden. Jesús’ discovery quickly clamps to his palm and with a bite, his fate is sealed. The ancient bug inside it has bestowed upon him both immortal life and an increasingly insatiable bloodlust.
A secondary plot-line follows a wealthy, terminally ill business man Dieter de la Guardia (Claudio Brook), who has dedicated his life to find the device to halt his impending death at the hands of terminal illness. His lust for the Cronos device and it’s ‘reward’ counters Jesús’ ever worsening predicament as he struggles to come to terms with what has been thrust upon him. De la Guardia dispenses his goon nephew to retrieve the device from Jesús leading to the discovery that Cronos does not stop death, but continues life. Even after the nephew pushes Jesús and the car he is trapped in off a cliff, he continues to live, decomposing as he walks.
Del Toro’s unfussy direction lets this transformation take place slowly in front of the ever recoiling audiences eyes, keeping tension high and details sketchy. Obscure close ups of the bug within the device reveal just enough to keep us informed and intrigued without ever having to resort to a silly magical explanation of it’s inner-workings. Lingering shots elsewhere elucidate the central characters needs, one for blood the other for life. One particularly gruelling shot shows Jesús at a New Years Eve bash licking another mans nosebleed off the bathroom floor, Luppi’s face showing such a sinister glee that you can only wince at what unfurls before you.
What really heightens the movie is the relationship Jesús shares with his granddaughter, Aurora (Tamara Shanath), an essentially mute little girl who acts as his guardian angel. She shows him compassion – hiding him when he returns from the dead, sheltering him from the Sun and letting him sleep in her toybox. She even goes as far as clubbing de la Guardia during their final altercation. It’s her unwavering innocence and sweetness and the dichotomy between that and her grandfathers corruption that adds an emotional weight to proceedings, elevating it beyond many more hollow movies.
As a genre piece Cronos satisfies, but beyond that it is a well balanced exploration into human relationships, greed and power and mans quest for eternal life, whether or not the ideal is as glorious as the reality.
– Oliver Drew.