The House (2022) is a British, stop-motion animated, anthology film distributed by Netflix and co-produced with Nexus Studios. As an anthology film, the work is split into three parts, tied together by theme, style, and characterisation, despite its movements throughout time and circumstance.
I – And heard within, a lie is spun
The first story, directed by Emma de Swaef and Marc Roels is set in the 1800s and follows a family who moves into a new house, bestowed upon them by a mysterious benefactor. In this part of the film, the models are felty humans with big heads and small faces. The momentum for this story, is the patriarch’s need for his returned social status, incensed by his dislikeable relatives. After meeting with a renowned architect, he agrees to move into a new stately home, in exchange for the family’s current property, which is a cosy and inviting cottage. The father, Raymond [Matthew Goode] and mother, Penelope [Claudie Blakely], soon become so beguiled by their newfound luxurious living arrangements, and with the encouragement of the architect’s employee Mr Thomas [Mark Heap] that they lose focus on their children. Mabel [Mia Goth] and Isobel, neglected and unaffected by the house’s nefarious enchantments must find a way to escape.
II – The lost is truth that can’t be won
The second story, directed by Niki Lindroth von Bahr, is set in the present day and follows the Developer [Jarvis Cocker], a stressed rat who is trying to sell the newly renovated house to turn a quick profit. The Developer is plagued by problems and unwanted guests as the audience begins to unfold the truth of his behaviour.
III – Listen again and seek the sun
The final story, directed by Paloma Baeza, features bi-pedal cats who now live in the house. Landlady Rosa [Susan Wokoma] frantically tries to maintain and improve the property, whilst her tenants, Jen [Helena Bonham Carter] and Elias [Will Sharpe] frustrate her by not paying their rent in stones and fish, dismissing her plans for the house. We soon learn, however, the impossibility of Rosa’s wishes.
The quality of models and sets are truly fascinating, with their attention to detail, and the film’s dark aesthetic is quite captivating, despite some of the scenes where not much happens. The stop-motion works remarkably well in the first story, with its uncanny nature matching the tone, whilst the second and third don’t necessarily suit it as much.
The house itself is a sort of genius loci, and an extension of Van Schoonbeek, which gives the setting a sense of eldritch unease throughout the film. It is also the constant that ties the three parts of the anthology together, giving the film’s other themes context and space to explore. The main themes that run throughout the film are greed, wealth, and the pursuit of happiness; all whilst being underpinned by this surrealist nature that enables the characters to experience breaks in reality.
The first story is my personal favourite, there’s a dread and uncanniness that’s just not replicated in the other stories. It’s more closely related to horror in genre, unlike the other parts, and that provides a great ground to explore the film’s themes. After all, greed and madness are scary ideas, and seem to flourish in a more disturbing setting. The second story is mainly characterised by quick-fixes, the loss of control, and its downward spiral into demise. Everything seems to go wrong for the Developer, as he tries to fix the house, much like Rosa’s character in the third story. However, their outcomes are very different, despite them both succumbing to the influence of others, the difference being between bad and good intentions.
Overall, I enjoyed The House. I’m always partial to a stop-motion animated picture, and the fact it’s darkly comedic and a little creepy means it’s very much my cup of tea. The anthology film format usually means there will be more meaning packed into a smaller narrative whilst the separate stories emphasise an overarching theme. In this sense, I think the format worked well, it’s just that the second and third stories weren’t quite as engaging as the first. The House is definitely worth watching, and I think it would suit a number of tastes. The genre is loose and evolving, and the themes are thought-provoking. On top of that, the stop-motion animation is detailed and charming.
Final rating 8/10.
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