The House Movie Review: A Kafkaesque Nightmare!
This Kafkaesque narrative of a house through the ages captures the strange, the intriguing, and the inexplicable through its occupants and their intense attachment to the structure
This stop-motion animated dark comedy anthology film involving a house through different eras, and the arresting allure it possesses, is Kafkaesque in the truest sense. Presented by three different sets of directors and written for the screen by Enda Walsh, The House succeeds in keeping you riveted from start to finish. The strange, inexplicable power this large structure has on its inhabitants seeps into the viewing experience, making you question reality as much as the animated characters on screen. Gustavo Santaolalla’s intensely crafted music lends an eerie feel to the premise of the anthology. It is rare for an inanimate object to be the central character in a story, but the film pushes its title to the limit, with the house and its looming presence being the glue that connects all narratives. Despite being set in vastly different eras, the structure weighs heavily down on the hearts and minds of its occupants, and yet, why they feel such an attachment to it is never really explored or understood. The shorts offer no clear resolution, making this surrealist feature set in an undefined past, present, and future, all the more odd.
Director – Emma de Swaef, Marc James Roels, Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Paloma Baeza
Cast – Mia Goth, Matthew Goode, Claudie Blakley, Jarvis Cocker, Susan Wokoma, Helena Bonham Carter, Paul Kaye, Will Sharpe
Streaming On – Netflix
Story 1, directed by Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels, features an impoverished household from the past. Raymond and Penelope have two daughters in nine-year-old Mabel (Mia Goth) and her baby sister, Isobel. They live in a dilapidated house in want of refurbishment. One night, a drunk Raymond signs the deal of a lifetime with an elusive architect. According to the agreement, the family must move to a new, grand house adjacent to their current premises, at no cost. The couple exhibits an intense fascination for the palatial place, but Mabel finds the goings-on inexplicable; daily modifications happen at the behest of the faceless architect, sumptuous feasts appear magically at mealtimes despite the appearance of no staff.
Set in the present day, presumably, Story 2, directed by Niki Lindroth von Bahr has an anthropomorphic rat as a developer in the process of selling the same house. He undertakes all the restoration work himself, which includes a major bug infestation. He constantly calls someone to share his frustrations. When the said day of viewing for prospective buyers arrives, not everything goes to plan. He spots an oddly-shaped couple hanging back, expressing much interest in the place. But try as he might, he isn’t able to get down to brass tacks with them; they refuse to leave, always mumbling about the property and requesting him for tea.
The final short in the anthology (directed by Paloma Baeza) alludes to an apocalyptic world where climate change has run rampant, with most structures underwater from a massive flood. One of the last remaining properties that hasn't been swept up by the deluge is the proverbial house. The latest landlady is a cat named Rosa (Susan Wokoma); she has two tenants – Jen and Elias. The former pays rent in semiprecious stones and the latter in fish. One of Rosa’s foremost wishes is to bring out the house’s true potential, but a full restoration requires something she doesn’t have: money. The attachment she feels for the structure and her inability to let go of it at any cost are brought into question with the arrival of Cosmos, Jen’s carefree, bohemian spirit partner.
One of the recurring motifs of this stop-motion animated anthology is that of restoration and rebirth. In every timeline, we see the evolution of the inanimate house by either work being undertaken for its benefit or plans proposed for the future. The first narrative brings out the Kafkaesque absurdity of the story extremely well, giving the structure a mind of its own, so to speak. Even the bug infestation in the second story could well be a nod to The Metamorphosis. The claustrophobia of the first story isn’t quite replicated in the other two, nor is the lingering feeling of unease; several moments from Short 1 make you feel that the rooms are closing in on you and that someone is always watching. All three films in the anthology maintain an arresting strangeness, though, but the sheer eeriness associated with Mabel and her parents’ existence in a Doll House type atmosphere isn’t recreated. The third short, with its happy ending scenario, undermines the overall sense of the narrative thus far too. A tremendous OST accentuates the weird, the unsaid, the unknown, and the inexplicable to give weight to this highly arresting and experimental story with an odd house at the centre. The theme of attachment to a physical structure (its inanimate nature, notwithstanding) is another intriguing exploration put forth by the makers.