Movie Review: ‘The House’
Director: Emma de Swaef & Marc James Roels, Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Paloma Baeza
Cast: Claudie Blakley, Matthew Goode, Mia Goth, Mark Heap, Miranda Richardson, Jarvis Cocker, Yvonne Lombard, Sven Wollter, Susan Wokoma, Helena Bonham Carter, Paul Kaye, Will Sharpe
Plot: A three-part anthology following strange events during three points in the history of a house. We follow the construction of the house and initial happenings, an infestation overcoming the house and its final days amid rising floodwaters.
Review: It’s been a while since Netflix put out something so completely bizarre that it feeds a solid fortnight of earnest video essays picking apart the meaning. In this case, a single meaning becomes fleeting as the locale appears to be the only constant, with each film-maker bringing their own themes and influences to the story. Trying to find true continuity through the stories is a pointless exercise, as the characters will appear as anthropomorphic animals in some chapters, and not others.
The first part features simple, but effective, humanoid characters in the form of a poor family living under the alcoholic father Raymond (Goode). They’re offered a to-good-to-be-true offer from a wealthy architect to move into a mansion of his own design. Upon their arrival, Raymond and his wife become absorbed in their new lives while daughter Mabel (Goth) is left watching in horror and it becomes more and more sinister. Second up is a more modern setting featuring an anthropomorphic rodent developing the house for sale. The Developer (Cocker) holds back the appearance of bugs, debt collectors and oddly shaped potential buyers who refuse to leave. It’s a descent into madness with some good reveals towards the end. Finally is the story of Rosa (Wokoma), an anthropomorphic cat trying to restore the house for new tenants, but she can’t get her current residents to pay rent. Instead each seems to be on their own journey of discovery, leaving a frustrated Rosa unable to secure a future.
Thematically each story is critical of material ownership, encouraging people to avoid tying their identity to a place. In many cases, a wealthier group with manipulate our protagonists by appealing to their sources of stress. The most striking feature of the film is the stop-motion animation. The staging of the scenes suggests a strong influence from Wes Anderson’s ‘flat’ style of creating shots, and the anthropomorphic animals emphasise the visual links between this and Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s nice to see a similar approach taken with a more sinister tone, as it works very well. There’s a consistent feeling of disquiet when watching this movie.
For an art film, this is surprisingly accessible. There’s no clear-cut meaning, but it can be enjoyed on a surface level. The quality of the animation really does elevate it above similar anthologies in the horror genre.
Rating: NINE out of TEN