Netflix animation feature film “The House”, which was released on last Friday, is a curious mixed bag which still engages us even when it does not work as well as intended. Consisting of three different weird tales, the movie tries to scare us, disturb us, and touch us, and the result is not exactly successful, but I really enjoyed its detailed and meticulous stop-motion animation even though I felt some dissatisfaction in the end.
The first tale, which is titled “And heard within, a lie is spun”, is about one very strange circumstance of a young girl named Mable (voiced by Mia Goth) and her poor family. In the beginning, we see how they are disregarded by their more affluent relatives, and that certainly makes Mable’s parents quite humiliated, but then there comes an unexpected change when Mable’s father later comes across some strange architect who presents an offer he cannot possibly refuse. For some unknown reason, the architect is willing to build a big house for the family at a certain spot not so far from the family’s current residence, and Mable’s parents are certainly delighted by this impossibly good offer.
However, of course, it turns out that there is a catch once the house is completed. According to a shady legal representative of the architect, the family must give up everything belonging to them before entering the house, and Mable’s parents do not mind that much despite some initial reluctance. After all, the house looks pretty good inside and outside, and every necessity including food is constantly provided for the family everyday, though they somehow do not see any servant or maid in the house at all.
As days go by, it does not take much time for Mable to sense that there is something very creepy about the house. When it later goes through a sort of renovation for no apparent reason, she and her little baby sister frequently find themselves lost or trapped inside the house, and the mood becomes all the more insidious as their parents become more distant to them as their parents seem to be under a sort of spell conjured inside the house.
What eventually occurs around the end of the story will probably not surprise you that much, the story keeps holding our attention thanks to the competent direction of directors Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels. There are a series of genuinely creepy moments, and you will admire the technical aspects of these moments for those big and small details vividly presented on the screen via stop motion animation.
While it is also mainly set in the same house, the next story, which is titled “Then lost is truth that can’t be won”, presents anthropomorphic rat characters instead of human characters. The house, which is now surrounded by a more modern background, is currently occupied by a struggling developer, and the main humor of this part comes from the growing desperation over his ongoing renovation project. Besides constantly demanded to pay off his bank loans sooner or later, the developer (voiced by Jarvis Cocker) has to work on the house alone by himself, and then he comes to face a very serious pest problem which will amuse anyone who has ever had a domestic pest problem.
Anyway, the developer manages to open the house for potential buyers in the end, but, alas, things only get worse for him when a strange old couple comes into the house. This old couple keeps saying they are “extremely” interested in buying the house, but they do not leave at all, and this certainly annoys and frustrates the developer. No matter how much he tries to get rid of them, this couple still does not go away at all, and the mood becomes all the more surreal as his state of mind gradually crumbles along the story. At one point, we even get a hallucinogenic musical moment, and director Niki Lindroth von Bahr has a lot of naughty fun with that.
Compared to the first two tales, the third tale, which is titled “Listen again and seek the sun”, is relatively milder and gentler in comparison. In this tale, the area surrounding the house has been flooded for some unknown reason, and the house is now inhabited by a few anthropomorphic cat characters including Rosa (voiced by Susan Wokoma), who has attempted to fix the house while also trying to survive along with her two tenants day by day. While quite determined to stay in the house as long as she can, Rosa cannot help but feel exasperated because her two tenants are not particularly cooperative to her, and her frustration is more increased when another figure enters the picture later in the story.
What we get here is a merely whimsical comic drama which meanders from time to time before the eventual finale, but what is presented on the screen by director Paloma Baeza still entertains us nonetheless. Like the two other tales, the third tale distinguish itself fairly well via its own mood and details, and that is more than enough for forgiving its several shortcomings including its rather week narrative.
In conclusion, “The House” is not a total success as its individual tales do not gel together well on the whole, but it is still a nice visual treat for you if you are well aware of the painstaking efforts behind its lovely stop motion animation. It could be more improved in my humble opinion, but it surely has much more style and personality compared to many forgettable Hollywood blockbuster animation films out there, and I am willing to revisit it someday.