House review: Netflix’s stop-motion nightmare goes places you can’t ignore

Maybe it doesn’t mean much to note that Netflix‘s stop-motion movie The House presents the most disturbing, crawling, stomach-churning vermin-based musical number since CG-fest 2019 Cats. After all, there is not much competition for this title. But that should count for Something that this collection of three weird animated stories is so capable of pissing off an audience with something so joyful and playful. The film isn’t mainstream horror, but it does have some deep-rooted horror elements that can creep up on viewers just like these dancing parasites do.

Two of The HouseAll three stories look like they could be set in the same world as Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox: The protagonists here are similar anthropomorphic animals, built with the same kind of gentleness and warmth, and sometimes operating with the same kind of anxious chatter. But where Fantastic Mr. Fox is a picturesque and intimate fantasy, The House delves much deeper into Czech artist Jan Švankmajer’s surreal stop-motion territory. The film’s visual style is deceptively comfortable, but the stories are anything but.

In the first of three 30-minute segments (titled I, II and III), a family of four living quietly in the countryside are confused by a visit from hateful relatives, who mock the father, Raymond (watchmen‘s Matthew Goode) for the modest ambitions that keep him living in such a small rural home. Soon after, a mysterious, eccentric architect offers to build a lavish new home for bubbly Raymond and his wife Penny (Claudie Blakley), on the condition that they move in and never leave. Their young daughter Mabel (Mia Goth) is horrified by her parents’ changes when they move into their sprawling new mansion, where silent workers are constantly dismantling and rebuilding everything around them, and elaborate meals appear in the dining room. every evening, provided by invisible hands.

Courtesy of Netflix

The segment’s message about what makes a house a home is pretty straightforward, as is the obvious horror story progression of the plot. But Belgian directors Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels tell their story with strange and effective touches. Unlike the characters in the other two segments, Mabel and her family are human – but they’re an unusually soft and shapeless human form, with soft padded, domed faces and small beaded features, all close together. They look like fuzzy characters from Aardman Animation – Wallace and Gromit, but fuzzy, or like they’ve melted a bit after being left out in the rain. The house around them feels more concrete and imminent, and it overshadows them and makes them less real as the story progresses. The segment looks like a childhood nightmare, with an ending to match.

In the second segment, by Swedish director Niki Lindroth von Bahr, the characters are rats. Although the bones of the house and the lines of its exterior are exactly the same, it appears to be an entirely different place – a spacious, airy house in a bustling city. An entrepreneur, an up-and-coming ambitious credited only as a “developer” (and voiced by musician Jarvis Cocker), has taken out a clearly ruinous loan in order to renovate the place into a no-cost showcase for modern luxuries, marble floors imported to the mood lighting built into the phone. But the house is infested with difficult-to-eradicate beetles, which have other ideas for the place. And it kind of ties into a different form of home infestation that the developer is having a hard time shaking off.

Of the three segments, this one is both the scariest and the least satisfying. Horror stories certainly don’t have to be morality tales, but it’s never fully satisfying to see a character endure terrible torture for no clear reason. The developer’s war on the beetles is laced with irony and inevitability, but there’s no particular sense that he invited it. The things that happen to him do not correct a cosmic evil or present an important theme for the viewer. It’s like watching entropy in action. It’s supposed to be awfully funny to watch his exasperation as events escalate and his life crumbles, but viewers with empathy — or an aversion to maggots — might want to skip this one.

Courtesy of Netflix

The third segment, by British actor-director Paloma Baeza, moves away from the oppression of the first two stories. This time, the inhabitants of the house – now surrounded by floodwaters in a gently post-apocalyptic setting – are anthropomorphic cats. Like the developer, the owner of the house, a calico named Rosa (Susan Wokoma), is obsessed with renovating the house. She used to run it like a boarding house, but after “the floods” most of its residents abandoned it and it has only two tenants left, neither of whom can pay rent. Elias (Will Sharpe), a shy black cat with a clear crush on Rosa, and laid-back hippie cat Jen (Helena Bonham Carter) gently dodge his hints about the payment, and when Jen’s guru friend Cosmos (Paul Kaye) happens, he chases complicates the situation.

Like the first two chapters, the final story centers on an ambitious wannabe obsessed with her home and watching her ambitions deflate around her. But where the first story is chilling and the second saddening, the third has other ambitions that make the whole project fall into place more clearly. All three parts were scripted by Irish playwright and screenwriter Enda Walsh (best known for the 2008 landmark film Hunger, directed by Steve McQueen and starring Michael Fassbender). And while Walsh’s scripts don’t initially appear to be set in the same world or have much in common, other than the layout of the house, this third segment highlights all three.

The three parts of The House have their nightmarish aspects, often literally, as reality shifts around characters, or ordinary objects are imbued with dread. Despite the furry characters in the second two stories and the child protagonist in the first, this anthology is not intended for children. It’s not violent or sexual, the usual nods to “not for kids” fare, but its aim of confusing audiences and detaching the characters from reality makes it a more adult saga than most stop-watch projects. motion.

Courtesy of Netflix

The same goes for the central theme, about how the characters’ obsessions and attachments to home hurt and limit them. All three associate home with a prosperity they lack and a future they cannot attain, and all three are perverted by it. But only Rosa, in the last moments of the film, is offered a solution. It seems significant that she’s also the only one of the three leads with friends who care about her and want to help her, even if she doesn’t acknowledge what they do as help. None of the main characters can see beyond the fantasies they have concocted until they are forced to by circumstances, and for all of them, home is a prison.

The audience for this post may be a little limited, as is the audience for such a dark and (in two cases) cynical collection of stories. But the job of The House itself can be a decoy enough to attract people. Like much stop-motion, this film lives in its detail – the rich textures of the characters, their clothing and the objects around them, the elaborate qualities of the dollhouses of their worlds, the clear sense of care and time put into building these sets. Viewers may be put off by this nauseating parasitic musical routine, with its chants, creepy dances and grotesque enthusiasm. But it’s hard not to appreciate the amount of work that went into creating this three-fever dream, and the sheer efficiency of the directors in creating such instantly believable fantasy worlds. They set out to make these stories extremely oppressive and claustrophobic, and they certainly succeeded.

The House is streaming on Netflix now.

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