Available to watch from today is the stop-motion anthology film, The House. The movie – written by Enda Walsh – is a dark fantasy, composed of three separate stories, all centred around a dwelling.
In the first chapter – directed by Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels – a poor family are gifted a purpose-built house, after they agree to give up their old home to a rich stranger. But the seemingly perfect homestead isn’t quite what it seems, and soon it is casting a bewitching power over some of its new inhabitants.
In the second chapter – directed by Niki Lindroth von Bahr – a rodent property developer finds himself at war with insects, while trying to sell a recently renovated house. But insects aren’t his only problem; he also has to contend with two rats who come to view the property and make it clear they have no intention of leaving.
The third and final chapter – directed by Paloma Baeza – follows the story of a cat landlord, who is having difficulties renovating her home. Her plan is to do up the building, while letting her rooms out to rent, but she finds dealing with tenants to be rather problematic.
Helena Bonham Carter, Paul Kaye, Miranda Richardson, Stephanie Cole, and Jarvis Cocker all feature amongst the voice cast of this film. Fans of Cocker will also be pleased to know the former Pulp frontman also sings a tune over the end credits.
Now with The House being an animated movie, and featuring some quirky and comical-looking animals, Netflix subscribers will be forgiven for thinking this is a picture aimed squarely at kids. For the record, it is not (or at least, not quite), and those considering sticking the rugrats in front of this film without checking it out first, may wish to invest in a therapist now.
The House is a superbly realised, delightfully imaginative picture, which kids will love; but it is also a macabre movie, with some very dark and disturbing imagery. There are a few creepy, mind-bending scenes across all three chapters which may frighten the very young, while chapter two in particular includes a couple of instances of adult language.
Ultimately, I expect kids will lap this up, and adore the insane, quirky characters and slightly sinister edge to each story. But I feel it’s important to make it clear this movie does delve into darkness at times, so don’t expect things to be light and twee throughout.
Arguably the darkest chapter is the opening instalment, which plays like a wicked fairy tale. This is a truly twisted piece, which starts pretty grim, becomes rather unnerving as it goes along, then descends into a terrifying place as it concludes.
Part two is marginally lighter, but will freak out those with an uncontrollable fear of creepy crawlies, while the third segment is easily the brightest of the trio. However, this final chapter is still a little odd in places, even if it is far less terrifying.
While each chapter is very different to the one before, they have all been produced with a great attention to detail. The animation on display is truly excellent, and even if some of the characters do come across as a little disturbing, there’s no escaping the fact a significant amount of care has gone into bringing these visuals to the screen.
In terms of the animation alone, this is a remarkable movie. There is something truly fascinating about it, and it won’t fail to entice audiences at every opportunity.
But do the three separate tales come together in unison? This I’m not so sure.
Anthology movies are tricky beasts, and getting them just right is something few have ever achieved. The core problem is that whether you’re presenting three stories, four stories, or possibly even five, you’re asking the audience to come on multiple journeys with you, and continually reinvest in new characters and situations every twenty to thirty minutes.
Single-story movies struggle to get audiences on board when there’s just one narrative, so trying to convince people to follow a conveyor belt of tales can be a thankless task. And even if you can maintain interest, and captivate an audience on more than one occasion, bringing everything together in a neat package is usually one hurdle too many.
There is also that pesky problem with anthology films whereby it becomes almost impossible not to compare one story against the next. So, even if all the individual segments are good, there’s still the feeling that one is better than the other, and so on.
The House suffers from this same issue. While all three stories are worth your time, the first is arguably stronger than the next, which in turn is better than the third.
I also found that I became so transfixed with the opening story in this anthology movie, that I would have liked to have seen a lot more from it. When it reached its conclusion, I wasn’t so ready to move on, and I can’t help but feel it should have been turned into a feature-length story of its own.
This is high praise for the opening instalment, but a burden for the rest of the film to carry around. Everything then has to outdo the initial segment, and that’s an internal battle no film should have to undertake.
The other problem I found with The House is that while I enjoyed each story individually, I’m not sure they work together as a collective. Other than the concept of a single building (i.e ‘the house’) tying the three different chapters together, there’s not much that really links the tales.
This film doesn’t include opening or closing sections to bookend the picture, nor does it feature a central character that carries over from one story to the next. And because there is no thread running through the film, watching The House feels less like you’re viewing a movie, and more like you are binge-watching three episodes of a television series.
By putting an opening scene in front of the first chapter, or by introducing a character that could appear in all three tales, The House would have felt more cohesive. Not including these elements doesn’t devalue this film’s achievements, but it also doesn’t help in the overall presentation.
So, there are problems with The House and these do hold it back a touch, but I don’t want them to completely take the sheen off this picture. There is so much to like across the three stories, and this is something which is the real strength of the film.
As previously stated, this film has been made with care, and this is very evident in every frame. The stop-motion animation is truly wonderful, and all involved should be proud of their work in bringing every pain-staking second to the screen.
The sign of a successful piece of animation is how well it manages to create rich, believable characters, irrespective of how they are brought to life. The House delivers three stories, all of which feature believable characters, and this is something which the animation team have triumphed in.
Well done indeed.
Despite some niggles, I enjoyed The House very much, and do suggest you check it out, but I don’t believe it quite works in the way it is intended. The sum of its parts is more than enough to get it over the line, and it is certainly something that delivers short bursts of entertainment, but it does feel a bit patchwork.
Should all three stories have been turned into separate feature films? I believe so, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of fun to be found here regardless, and perhaps that is the key thing to focus on.
I’m not sure all audiences will find it truly satisfying, but I expect some will adore it. I also think it is destined to achieve cult status in the fullness of time, with kids of today coming back to it in twenty years, to talk about how much they enjoyed it when they were younger.
Should you want to take a look for yourself, The House is available to stream on Netflix now.