Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Starring Frederico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath. (1993, R, 94 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 8, 1994
What a strange film this is. The second-highest-budgeted Mexican movie since Like Water for Chocolate, this import is an impressive, disturbing rumination on the ancient theme of eternal life, and the lengths men will go to in pursuing its brass ring. In the opening voice-over, we are told that a 16th-century alchemist created a small, palm-sized Cronos device that would bestow the gift of agelessness on its possessor. Naturally, the wizard comes to a bad end (before even the opening titles), and Cronos cuts to modern-day Mexico, where an elderly antique dealer (Luppi) and his daughter (Shanath) discover the scarab-like device hidden inside a grimy and roach-infested wooden archangel. When he puts it in his hand and winds the mechanism, tiny retractable pincers emerge and burrow into his palm. Exactly what drives the Cronos device -- an insectile demon hidden deep within the clockwork innards -- is never quite explained, but the next day, the old man isn't feeling all that old anymore. He isn't looking too badly, either. Meanwhile, a dying, reclusive billionaire and his evil nephew (nicely essayed by Ron Perlman, who's looking more and more like Forties horror star Rondo Hatton every minute) are searching high and low for the device. Their quest ends when they discover the battered archangel in the old man's curio shop, and from this point on it's a deadly battle of wits between the two men, one of them gravely ill and the other extremely deceased. Del Toro has a wonderful eye for this sort of dark fable: his shots are filled with expressive camera angles, pounding rains, and gossamer fogs. Rarely has modern-day Mexico looked so eerie. Shanath as the old man's granddaughter is particularly affecting, caring for her grandfather even as he rots away before her innocent eyes. As a meditation on life eternal, Cronos is a thoughtful, intelligent film, and as a horror movie (which is, I think, its main mission in life) it's genuinely disquieting. Which is all you really need.