‘Stopmotion’ Review: Effective in Fits and Starts, But Never Fully Comes to Life

Kevin Taft reviews the ambitious and occassionally distrubing Stopmotion, which feels a bit too familiar but works well enough in moments.
User Rating: 6

Winner of the Fantastic Fest 2023 Jury Award for Best Director, Robert Morgan’s Stopmotion is unlike any horror film you’ve probably ever seen despite existing in familiar territory.

The theme of “Art consuming its artist” is a well-tread territory. Add to that an abusive mother and a precociously mysterious child, and things get truly unsettling.

The film opens with Ella Blake (Aisling Franciosi) serving as the hands for her newly disabled mother (Stella Gonet), a famous stop-motion animator whose fingers have curled into unusable claws. Ella becomes an extension of her, and her mother’s overbearing and abusive insistence on getting her latest film completely wears on her.

See Also: ‘Dark Harvest’ Review: Something Fresh, Despite its Familiar Crops

When her mother falls ill and is placed in a hospital, Ella is finally able to move out on her own and finish the work herself  – without her mother’s glaring eyes. But she is intrigued when her new neighbor – a somewhat annoying and nosy little girl (Caoilinn Springall) – comes upon Ella’s stop-motion set-up. Soon enough, she tells Ella that her story is boring and that she should tell a new story. So, as the girl tells her story piece by piece, Ella goes about creating something new. Soon enough things get morbid and weird, and her sanity starts to come into question.

Morgan’s film tackles the obsession of the artist but also issues like plagiarism and artistic doubt. As Ella gets increasingly wrapped up in her work, she pushes aside her boyfriend, Tom (Tom York), and various friends, fully immersing herself in a world of her own making.

Then, as the stop-motion begins to infect her life, she becomes so much a part of her project that the line between reality and dark fantasy converges.

To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of movies where many of the scary elements are clearly in the protagonist’s mind. When I’m aware that what I’m seeing isn’t “real” in the world of the story, it becomes more of a visual and aural experience, but it loses any sense of immediacy for me.

I watched a similar film the same night as this (Lovely, Dark, and Deep), and that, too, had extended sequences that took place all in the lead character’s mind. I find that I grow impatient with this approach, as it feels as if the story has suddenly come to a halt, and the audience has to wait until the character comes out of their dream state for the plot to continue.

This happens in Stopmotion as it is a way to symbolize Ella’s descent into madness. There’s creepy stop-motion animation and lots of body horror, but there’s never an empathic connection to the character. And while the stop motion animation that Ella is creating is genuinely unsettling, I also wondered who on earth she was making her film for. The stop-motion dolls are sort of gross and simplistic in a child-like way from the outset, so who would release her movie? Perhaps if they were more pleasing to watch at the outset and then grew more and more disturbing, it might have been a more effective way for us to witness her disintegration. From the outset, Ella and her mom just seem deranged already.

Franciosi is certainly successful here as Ella, carrying this wild little film on her very capable shoulders. And Morgan has crafted something absolutely unique. I’m not certain the impressive pieces are choreographed into an overall effective whole, but I’d be interested in seeing what Morgan does next.

Stopmotion opens in theaters on February 23, 2024.

6
Fair
Written by
Kevin is a long-time movie buff with a wide variety of tastes and fixations in the film world. He cried the moment Benji appeared onscreen in “Benji,” and it took him about four times to finally watch “The Exorcist” (at age 24) without passing out. “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the movie that changed everything and when his obsession with films and filmmaking began. A screenwriter himself (one long-ago horror script sale to New Line remains on a shelf), his first film "Two Tickets to Paradise" that he co-wrote premiered in June 2022 on Hallmark. He is currently working on another for the iconic brand.

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