Written & Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, and Tamara Shanath
A mysterious device designed to provide its owner with eternal life resurfaces after four hundred years, leaving a trail of destruction in its path.
Narrator: [over the opening sequence] In 1536, fleeing from the Inquisition, the alchemist Uberto Fulcanelli disembarked in Veracruz, Mexico. Appointed official watchmaker to the Viceroy, Fulcanelli was determined to perfect an invention which would provide him with the key to eternal life. He was to name it… the Cronos device. 400 years later, one night in 1937, part of the vault in a building collapsed. Among the victims was a man of strange skin, the color of marble in moonlight. His chest mortally pierced, his last words… Suo tempore. This was the alchemist.
Now this is how you kick off your directorial debut. Part cautionary morality tale, part melodrama, and equal parts Hammer era atmosphere merge to produce a great variant vampire film. Del Toro was a mere 29 years old when he crafted this low budget horror thriller. The early pangs of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone can be seen years before their introduction in the humble and gentle dialogue between loved ones, even when de Toro’s love of strong child actors only utters a single word in the entire film. His alchemist approach to film making is born in the purest love of atmospheric magic and powerful casting choices – qualities that don’t go unnoticed on lovers of the genre – I promise. I pretty much despise myself for letting this sit in my Netflix Blu Ray queue for so very long.
The film’s prime movers are very alluring to the overall plot, something many other films fail to capture. Despite the very comic book blood and gore approach, as horror lovers we know this isn’t the crux of the film. Jesus (Luppi) runs an antique store by day, along with his young granddaughter, Aurora (Shanath), who Jesus and his beloved wife, Mercedes (Isabel) are raising. All we know is that the child lost her parents. The bond of love shared by Aurora and Jesus propel the film with effortless charm. They care after each other equally at moments and share the bulk of the film’s most suspenseful and gripping scenes. The polar opposites of these protagonists are delivered via De la Guardia (Brook) and Angel de la Guardia (Perlman) who have their own negatively impacted relationship. One based on selfishness and base villainy that provides the perfect antagonist contrast for Cronos.
While the film is an unusual vampire story in the end, the greater themes of love and sacrifice propel it to something greater. I can’t stress how perfectly balanced it is. Plot might even share a backseat to the characters and the amazing performances the entire cast brings. The De la Guardia’s have their own devilish needs for the Cronos device which are all self-serving in the end, and much like a multitude other horror films – the devil gets his due when all is said and done. Jesus embraces the evil out of necessity for just a moment, but he does the right thing when he learns the truth of the alchemist’s diabolical invention. This could have gone well past the two hour mark, but de Toro trims the fat down to a lean storytelling experience, one you’re sure to remember for some time. This is the most charming and non-exploitative horror film I’ve seen in a long time. Rent or buy it on Blu Ray. Try to remind yourself Pacific Rim isn’t that far off.