(Credit: Netflix)

Film Reviews

Netflix's 'The House': A stop-action adventure that slowly loses tempo

'The House- Marc James Roels, Emma De Swaef, Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Paloma Baeza
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The finest example of stop-action animation with off-putting and unsettling puppets that often send us tumbling down a nightmarish alley, The House is Netflix’s newest release that sees an anthology of half-hour long stories across three different generations revolving around the titular house. Although it proclaims to be a dark comedy, the overall morbid theme overpowers the general comedic feel. With three different stories involving a varied range of characters, this eerie trilogy boasts brilliant aesthetics that are sometimes let down by the lack of gripping narratives. 

The first story and the most successful one of the trilogy are directed by Belgian auteurs Marc James Roels and Emma De Swaef by far the creepiest and most terrifying tale, it is set in the 1800s and revolves around a family of four who lives a seemingly peaceful existence in a little cottage in the woods. However, the father is plagued by his own father’s failures and has a strange encounter one night with an odd and ominously philanthropic architect who moves the family into a huge mansion. The parents are enamoured by their current situation — wrapped in grandeur, riches, free delicacies and splendour. 

Voiced by Claudie Blakley and Matthew Goode, the story sees them constantly being dissuaded by their eldest daughter Mabel, played by Mia Goth, who is wary of the seemingly good intentions of the architect and his sinister cackle. A concoction of all our worst nightmares, the story sees non-believing parents, a sceptical child and never-ending hallways that make them get lost. Most importantly, their ridiculously small faces, along with the hunched backs, make us aware that they are nothing but puppets, and a fearful realisation sets in that makes us question our own agency. 

As Mabel is unable to save her parents- now transformed into pieces of furniture within the furnished mansion- from being doused by the angry flames, she makes an escape with her babbling infant sister, Isobel. The story transitions into one that is slightly underdeveloped and an eyesore. 

Directed by Niki Lindroth von Bahr with Jarvis Cocker voicing the lead, the story revolves around a rodent protagonist who is obsessed with furnishing the house with modern-day upholstery. The rat contractor can be seen trying to woo customers into purchasing the house while dealing with fur beetle infestation, desperately trying to get rid of them. However, he is soon haunted by a peculiar couple who are seemingly “very interested” in purchasing the property. 

They move into his home, take over his property under the pretext of being potential buyers and soon invite in equally terrifying-looking family and friends who infest the house. The ‘rat-infestation’ breaks the optimistic spirit of the lead actor, who gradually becomes one of them, living and thriving in the dirty nooks and crannies of the house. It is extremely shoddy and unsettling, it is a feeble attempt to talk about capitalism and violation of law or encroachment of one’s private property as it seems hugely underdeveloped. If anything, it might send some shudders down your spine and make you determined to call pest control very soon! 

The final story, directed by Paloma Baeza, stars Susan Wokoma, Will Sharpe and Helena Bonham Carter as the lead voice-over actors. It revolves around a cat named Rosa, who has inherited the house and is obsessed with refurbishing it. While battling with rising expenses and no extra help- her tenants pay her in fish and crystals to make up for missing rent- she slowly gets caught in her head, trying to make the house look perfect to attract more tenants. The arrival of a spiritual cat named Cosmos does not aid her situation; Cosmos asks her to let go of her worldly obsession, but Rosa refuses. 

In an oddly hopeful ending, Rosa finally lets go and is seen sailing into the vast uncertainty of the world with the rest of her ragtag tenants. While it ends on a fairly ambiguous note, the story is a brilliant way to show one’s obsession and desire to stick to the past as well as the other forces that propel them to move forward. 

In all, The House is not very consistent as an anthology. It starts off on a promising note with a creepy and dark story but then begins to lose its tempo in the middle. The final story is oddly hopeful and entertaining yet fails to live up to the moody tone set by its extremely promising trailer. If anything, as a visual delight, it emphasises the true potential of stop-action animation and how off-puttingly effective it can be as a method of storytelling.