I’ve just finished a viewing of the new stop-motion animation feature on Netflix, The House. Written by Enda Walsh (Hunger, and the play adaptation of Grief is the Thing with Feathers) and guided by a quartet of excellent directors, The House is broken into three chapters. Each chapter depicts a new set of characters living in the same house, separated in time.
As always, spoilers herein.
Described as a “dark comedy” by Netflix, this genre description does disservice to the variety of stories. While there are certainly funny moments, the first two chapters especially seemed much closer to outright horror.
Chapter one shows us Mabel (Mia Goth), the daughter of a pair who find themselves suddenly gifted with a new, gigantic home constructed by a mysterious (and apparently malevolent) architect. Little do they know that they are part of the architect’s vision, slowly incorporated into the house as it changes around and absorbs them. Mabel escapes with her baby sister as fire engulfs the second floor.
This chapter is a gothic ghost story, through and through.
If you haven’t seen a trailer for The House, the pivot in chapter two will surprise you: our main character (simply called “Developer,” and played by Jarvis Cocker, who also performs the lovely ending credits song), and everyone in his world, is a mouse. Having purchased the house to fix-and-flip it, this story had me thinking of The Money Pit (1986) more than once. This story has some comic elements, sure, but it’s also an anxiety-driven fever dream of construction mishaps, failure, insect infestation, and unfettered consumption. (I don’t want to spoil too much, but let’s just say there’s a musical number in this one, which comes out of nowhere, that made my eyes glaze over and my brain spitting little friction sparks as the gears of ordinary experience ground against one another.)
Even if you aren’t here for the bizarre oddities of the first two chapters, they’re worth wading through to experience Susan Wokoma’s portrayal of Rosa in chapter three. This chapter is, for me, a dramatic masterpiece. (Everyone in this chapter is a cat. Because… why tf not?)
In the world of chapter three, an apocalyptic flood has covered all the land around the house. (Insert compulsory “Noah” joke here.) Rosa, the house’s owner (a photograph we catch glimpses of suggests she also grew up there), runs it as a studio apartment building. Her two tenants, Elias (Will Sharpe) and Jen (Helena Bonham Carter), are compulsively bad at paying rent, thus inhibiting Rosa’s ability to renovate the house. (Don’t worry, Rosa’s arc frees her from the villainy of the rentier class.) Who she would pay with this rent money in this otherwise-empty world is a question she doesn’t seem willing–or able–to ask.
Rosa’s drive is classically single-minded. Get the money to renovate the house and gain some control over her life, maybe over the world around her. But as the waters continue to rise, it quickly becomes clear that the renovations would simply be a palliative against the end of the world as she knows it. Even as her tenants build boats (by cannibalizing her precious house) and escape, she remains trapped in her hopes and dreams for the building.
While the filmmaking, bizzarity, and sheer skill at stop motion kept me rapt through the first two chapters, chapter three had my heartstrings. I simply cannot overemphasize how good Susan Wokoma’s performance is. By the end of the piece I was holding back tears–and not only that, I was wondering why I felt the need to hold them back. And I think chapter three inspired that very reflection.
Seriously, go watch this movie.