‘The House’ is an unsettling stop-motion nightmare
Justin George | Wednesday, February 2, 2022
Well … that was strange.
“The House” is a stop-motion anthology film written by Enda Walsh. Each of the three chapters was produced by three filmmaking teams helmed by Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roles, Niki Lindroth von Bahr and Paloma Baeza, respectively. The three segments work together brilliantly, each providing a unique animation style, aesthetic and vibe.
The first segment follows a family who is offered a free home designed by a famous architect on the condition that they move into the house and abandon their current home and possessions. The family accepts. However, they soon discover that the house will never be home as it is slowly transformed into an ever-shifting, M.C. Escher-inspired hell.
The second segment follows a rat who is trying to flip a house but consistently cuts corners during the renovation process, even attempting to hide a beetle infestation from potential buyers. He is approached by an odd couple who are interested in the house, make no moves to actually purchase it and refuse to leave after an open house.
The third and final segment follows a landlord who rents rooms in her large house, which is on an island in the middle of a flooded former city. As far as the eye can see, the world is water. The landlord and her tenants live in peace until one day a strange traveler sails up to the island.
These segments are connected by the use of the same house as their centerpiece, all three combining to present the house’s progression from creation to destruction (or, perhaps, evolution?). Resolution and answers, though, are not part of the film’s cinematic vocabulary. Sure, each segment is unnerving in its own unique way, but this film must be more than just a tone poem or a collection of stories that take place in the same house across different universes. So, what is “The House” about?
My best guess is that the film is a rumination on the anxieties of being a homeowner and the things that tie a person to a place. The first is a story of a child being freaked out by their new home and finding the new environment unfamiliar and unsettling. The second is about the fear of home invasion, be that by other people or by creatures in the walls. The third is about the fear of losing a home as well as the inability to move on from a place that is no longer suitable for you to inhabit, either emotionally or physically. However, there is also the idea of rebirth present throughout each of these stories. This rebirth is evident in the constantly changing state of the house due to renovations and restorations, as well as the state of flux in which each of the characters finds themselves.
This whole film has an oppressive, Kafkaesque atmosphere to it, more unsettling than outright creepy (barring the first segment, which is utter nightmare fuel). The house seems to have a mind of its own, and each segment is imbued with a dreamlike, surreal feeling, the film’s world bending to some nonsensical, all-powerful authority that the characters cannot even begin to fathom. The choice to make this a stop-motion, animated project rather than a live-action one is certainly interesting, especially given that it further re-enforces the Kafkaesque idea of some unseen grand arbiter controlling everything from a distance. After all, much like the dolls that portray them, these characters really do not have any free will of their own. Ultimately, they find themselves utterly powerless in determining the final outcome of their story.
“The House” is a weird film. I found myself wrestling with its contents well after the credits rolled, and I’m still not entirely sure if I understand it. But see it for yourself, argue with your friends over what “The House” is actually about, because I think a cult audience will emerge and that people will be discussing this film for years to come.
Film: “The House”
Directors: Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roles, Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Paloma Baeza
Starring: Mia Goth, Jarvis Cocker, Susan Wokoma
If you liked: “The Shining,” “Coraline”
Where to watch: Netflix
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 shamrocks