The Movie Waffler New Release Review - STOPMOTION | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - STOPMOTION

New Release Review - STOPMOTION
A young animator embarks on a disturbing new stopmotion project.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Robert Morgan

Starring: Aisling Franciosi, Stella Gonet, Tom York, Caoilinn Springall, Therica Wilson-Read

Stopmotion poster

Aisling Franciosi puts the animator in Reanimator as a demented Nick Park in writer/director Robert Morgan's feature debut Stopmotion. A kindred spirit of Prano Bailey-Bond's recent British horror Censor, Stopmotion also casts a rising Irish actress as a withdrawn young woman who becomes consumed by her work. In this case it's the work of a stopmotion animator, which when you think about it, makes for the perfect horror movie protagonist/antagonist. After all, the stopmotion animator is something of a Baron Frankenstein who brings still (or dead) objects to life.

Franciosi's Ella is a budding young animator who has spent her life in the shadow and under the thumb of her oppressive mother, Suzanne (Stella Gonet), a legend in her field. With Suzanne struck by increasingly crippling arthritis, Ella acts as her mother's hands, making the intricate and minute movements required to bring her mother's claymation and puppet characters to life. Suzanne constantly berates her daughter for not possessing steady enough hands. As Ella makes the detailed adjustments, Suzanne's own hands move as though puppeteering her own daughter with her apron strings.

Stopmotion review

When Suzanne suffers a stroke and ends up in a coma, Ella decides she'll finish her mother's film. With the aid of her boyfriend, Tom (Tom York), who works for a building firm, she's able to move into an empty flat in a deserted tower block that appears set for demolition at some future point. The only other resident of the building appears to be a precocious little girl (Caoilinn Springall) who insists on befriending Ella, whether she likes it or not. At first Ella views the girl as a distraction, but when she gives Ella some ideas for her film that just might work, the little girl becomes a collaborator.

Following her pint-sized producer's instructions, Ella discards her mother's film and begins one of her own. It involves a young girl who finds herself lost in the woods, where she is stalked by a creepy figure known as "The Ashman" (if you've seen the Nathan Fielder show The Curse, this moniker loses some of its creepy effect). But in animating The Ashman, she may have brought something malevolent into her own dimension.

Stopmotion review

Since the 1990s, Morgan has been creating short animations, often with dark themes, and was a contributor to the 2014 horror anthology The ABCs of Death 2. It's the incorporation of his animation that gives his live-action feature debut a distinctive atmosphere, as otherwise it's something of a jumble of various horror tropes. On one hand it's a descendant of films like House of Wax and A Bucket of Blood, in which murderous artists incorporate their "victims" into their work, and receive accolades in the process. Ella follows the little girl's suggestion that the young girl of her film would be a more realistic puppet if it were made from a leftover steak. She's also convinced to construct The Ashman from the carcass of a fox the little girl discovers in the woods nearby. As Ella grows more unhinged and consumed by her work, we begin to suspect the project may require human meat.

The film also owes a lot to Cronenberg, as along with her mental health, Ella begins to physically deteriorate, picking at scabs to see if there's a human underneath her flesh or simply an armature like one of her creations.

It's the use of stopmotion animation that makes these tropes feel simultaneously fresh and indebted to a lost era of horror filmmaking. As the line between Ella's reality and her work begins to blur, the stopmotion makes the leap from her tabletop stage as it infiltrates both her dreams and her physical being to gruesome effect.

Stopmotion review

Franciosi is fantastic in the sort of role usually played by aging male British thesps or nervy young men. There's something of Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates in her performance as Ella withdraws into her own reality when the loss of a domineering matriarch casts her adrift in a world she's unprepared to negotiate alone.

As Ella shuns all offers of collaboration from her social and professional network in favour of taking guidance from the little girl, whom we assume early on is a product of her damaged psyche, Morgan appears to be making a statement on the frustration of filmmaking, an artform where even the most single-minded of artists are forced to compromise via collaboration. I'm sure Morgan had to compromise a lot in making Stopmotion, and he no doubt found working with humans more stressful than puppets, but his singular vision is enhanced greatly by his collaborators, particularly Franciosi, who keeps us in her thrall, frame by frame.

Stopmotion is on Shudder from May 31st.

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