Friday, March 10, 2023

Dream House

In an era of computer animation wizardry it's nice to see older technologies like stop-motion animation being reinvigorated and put to use for intelligent visual storytelling. A few months ago we were pleasantly surprised by Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio, and just last night we stumbled upon this little gem. Written by Enda Walsh, The House is made up of three narratives supervised by three different directors, with the common thread being the title building and how it embodies both the nightmarish aspects of home ownership and our insistent need for a place to hang our hats. (For reasons I won't go into, we found it uncannily appropriate to our circumstances.)

The first segment begins in folktale fashion with a poor couple who, after an encounter with a mysterious stranger, find themselves in free possession of a rambling mansion in the British countryside, the only requirement being that they surrender the smaller house that is their own. The focus of the segment is on the older of the couple's two young daughters, who, like Chihiro in Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, is more alert to the dangers of temptation then her parents are. Increasingly creepy as it progresses, it is the only part of the film that features human subjects, here represented by doll-like and delicate figures whose faces convey boundless melancholy.

By the second segment, the rural landscape has become urbanized and contemporary, and the house is in the possession of an ambitious developer (literally, a rat) who has furnished it with the latest mod cons in the hopes of making a killing in the real estate market. When the house is ready for showing everything possible goes wrong, and, what's worse, two sinister creatures — are they rodents, or something unimaginably worse? — take up residence uninvited and show no sign of leaving.

In the final segment, the house has become isolated by rising seas and is now owned by a long-suffering cat named Rosa, who struggles to maintain it and run it as an apartment building with little help from her two tenants, neither of whom pays cash rent. Gentler and more wistful than the other two parts, it ends in a way that is ultimately liberating.

Here and there I sensed affinities with, but rarely overt allusions to, everything from Kafka's The Metamorphosis, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, and Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle to the scratchboard artist Thomas Ott and Terhi Ekebom's lovely graphic story Logbook. The trailer below gives a good idea of the film's visual styles, but, inevitably, exaggerates its pace. The film largely avoids the lamentable tendency of contemporary animation to fill every possible second of running time with frenetic activity. When the story is sound to begin with there's little need for all of that.


Tororo said...

Thanks so much for recommending this! I love stop-motion animation, and I had not heard of this one so far.

Chris said...

You're welcome. No doubt you'll pick up a lot of things I missed.