If you thought that the most terrifying thing about home ownership is how White elites have manipulated the system to consolidate wealth and prevent younger, diverse groups from achieving equity and socio-mobility, you’re right! But the second most terrifying thing is this jacked up new…thing that Netflix just dropped.
Is it a movie? It’s got a running time of just over an hour and a half, but Netflix calls it a “special.” But it’s also got three different parts, which could be construed as “episodes.” But they’re all thematically linked. So it’s an anthology film. Probably. Maybe. Whatever it is, it’s f’n weird, y’all.
All of the segments feature cloth-based stop-motion animation. It’s a gorgeous, meticulous, wholly unique medium that never gets enough love. It is also inherently creepy. You know how they always make possessed people in horror movies twitch and spasm? That’s kind of how every stop-motion character moves. The House leans so hard into that icky that it is, in fact, sticky icky icky.
The first chunk follows a family in ye olde England with what appears to be a perfectly fine, if humble, home. When the papa, Raymond (Matthew Goode), gets a visit from his shitty family, they make him feel bad about his meager accommodations. So he gets blackout drunk, stumbles into the forest, and makes a “monkey’s paw” deal with a giggling fop in a very suspicious carriage named Mr Van Shooenbeek. The next day, Raymond’s family is forced to sign a contract to move into a big ole, fully furnished mansion that is magically built super-duper fast. One slight problem: the MODOK-headed Van Shooenbeek is totes using the house to torture them.
Cut to chunk two, which follows that same torture house that is now being renovated in the present day by a talking rat (Jarvis Cocker). The entire world appears to have been taken over by human-sized rodents. Arguably, this is a vast improvement over our real-life current state of affairs. The Developer rat throws an open house, and a couple of gross squatter rats show up while a bunch of bugs do a dance number. You were warned this was going to get kooky.
Finally, the third chunk is set in a climate changed world in which everything is flooded. Oh, right, and cats are now in charge. That just makes logical sense, so don’t argue. Rosa (Susan Wokoma) is the new landlord for the now thoroughly wet house from the first two chapters. She’s only got two tenants, Elias (Will Sharpe) and Jen (Helena Bonham Carter). The former is a fisherman, the latter is a hippie. Neither pay. Both seem like cool cats. Shortly after Jen’s “spirit partner,” Cosmos (Paul Kaye), shows up, the gang is forced to deal with further fallout of the whole “end of the world” thing. So the stop-motion cats acknowledge climate change more meaningfully than many sitting US senators.
Look, weird can be good. Everyone likes to bitch and moan about “remake this” and “reboot that,” lamenting that there are “no new ideas anymore!” Well, have you watched a fabric-based gothic fairy tale about landownership nightmares before? The point is, new ideas are risky, strange things. They are disquieting and upsetting with the way they refuse to slide into the box with a shape cut out for them. The messiness, the oddness, is refreshing unto itself. Does that make The House “good?”
Had the last two chapters sustained the hallucinatory horror of the first, the answer would have been an unqualified yes. Perhaps it was the switch to anthropomorphic animals, but the last chunks feel too cutesy or too silly. There’s a grotesque, Edgar Allen Poe-ish malice to the first that was captivating in a way the final parts simply aren’t. They’re fine. Weirdly fine, but fine. And that likely won’t be enough for most.
Still, hats off to writer Enda Walsh and directors Paloma Baeza, Emma De Swaef, Niki Lindroth von Bahr, and Marc James Roels. Stop-motion is such a gorgeous, labor-intensive art form. That these folks said “Let’s make some real weird shit folks haven’t seen” and Netflix then said “We’re in” is pretty cool. Cool enough to watch for almost two hours? Do what you want, I ain’t no Van Shooenbeek.
Grade = B-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Emma Stefansky at The Thrillist says “The House is worth checking out, with enough creepy whimsy to take the edge off any cravings for series like Love, Death + Robots, and Over the Garden Wall.”
Kate Sánchez at But Why Tho? says “A push against the capitalistic dream of homeownership, I can’t praise The House enough. In dark and humble narratives with fantastical animation, The House is a home to reclaim yourself.”
Gayle Sequeira at Film Companion says “It doesn’t aim to scare viewers so much as get them to contemplate the tragedy of feeling unsafe in a place one calls home.”