The House is lovely. Well, at least I found him adorable.
It’s an animated anthology film with three vignettes about a possibly cursed house. The film as a whole was written by Enda Walsh, who worked with different directors for each segment: Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels did the first, “And Heard Inside, a Lie is Spun”; Niki Lindroth von Bahr did the second, “Then Lost Is the Truth That Cannot Be Won” with co-writing by Johannes Nyholm; Paloma Baeza did the third, “Listen again and look for the sun.” Each segment has its own tone, but all three are unsettling in different ways.
In the first, a family leaves their beloved old home for a shiny new one, only to find strange changes overwhelm them after the move. In the second, a feisty rat voiced by Jarvis Cocker is determined to fix the house and sell it, but the resident cockroaches and beetles have other ideas. In the third, a very pent-up cat is determined to restore the house to its former glory despite floodwaters rising on all sides of his property.
I found each section instantly engaging in the way that animation, and in particular puppetry, can be. In the first section, the human family looks like homemade dolls come to life. Rats and cats in the second and third sections are beautifully expressive, with constantly flowing fur and swivel ears, and button eyes that see straight into your soul. (There are few things in life I enjoy more than realizing I’d protect that piece of felt with my life if necessary.)
It helps that each segment balances beautiful animation with a sense of genuine weirdness. None of the sections anchor you or give you any avenue of entry – you are immersed in the story and you can either accept it or reject it. And without spoiling anything, I thought the way each section blended into growing surrealism was perfect. I love love love when a movie or tv show treats me like a frog in a pot of hot water – in this case it was great fun coming to terms with each new reality The House gave me, only to realize that those realities were being bent and turned upside down as we went along.
The acting is also uniformly excellent, but I want to give extra points to Jarvis Cocker as a developer in the second segment because he hits the notes of his character’s growing hysteria so exactly.
And speaking of which, thematically, I think there are two things going on here in The House…or maybe three.
First of all, give up hope, you who are getting into home improvement. This film is absolutely made for apartment dwellers like me, who can sit in smug self-satisfaction throughout the movie, only to see it dented the next time we have to write an awful rent check.
But more seriously: the third vignette mostly read to me as a direct response to climate collapse, and people who refuse to take it seriously. In less than thirty minutes, “Listen Again and Seek the Sun” did a better job than the 138 minutes of Don’t look up, as far as I’m concerned. The youngest member of the family, Elias, tries his best to cope with the world he has been given, catching fish for food and using it for rent. The older cats, Jen and Cosmos (who at least got to have fun before the flood), get lost in daydreams about chakras, crystals, and spiritual planes. Trapped between them is Rosa, the owner of the house, who desperately wants to renovate it and return to normal. The fact that “normal” is impossible is obvious to others, but she doesn’t see it – she refuses to accept that she won’t get the future she was promised. It’s neat and stylish and maddening by turns, and damn it, I found myself liking Elias, who I’m going to call the film’s GenZ rep.
The third theme is a bit more ethereal, and I think what the filmmakers were looking for the most.
You have to let go. Yes, there you are, reading this. And me, typing this. At some point, you’re going to have to let go of a place you love, or a plan, or a person. Most likely, if you live long enough, you will have to give up all of these things and more. And that sucks, and I’m sorry if that’s how you find out because you deserve better than me to tell you, but here we are. To his favorite The House revolves around this idea. The father of the first part, “And Heard Within, A Lie Is Woven”, has come from the money and can’t completely let go of his view of himself as an upper-class person who deserves the wealth, status, servants – even though he admits his biological family is terrible. His desire to return to his wealthy status quo turns into a trap.
In the second section, “Then lost is the truth that cannot be won,” the developer has staked all his sense of self (and plenty of bank loans) on creating a swanky, marketable home. He can’t see his vision is lost for most people who show up for viewing, Where that the foundations of the house are compromised. And especially in “Listen again and look for the sun”, poor Rosa refuses to accept that her house project is simply no longer feasible. She has this platonic ideal of a house in her head, and a platonic ideal of “true” boarders to rent out her apartments, and that blinds her to the potential charm of her current situation. It also prevents him from coping with the changes caused by the flood.
To be clear, however, The House is fun to look at. It’s scary and weird and delicious. It’s exactly the kind of movie my friends and I would have traded as bargaining chips when we were in high school. I’m glad there are deeper themes to tease, because I love teasing deep themes, but none of this would matter without the witty scripts and beautiful stop motion, and you can absolutely immerse yourself in this strange world and enjoy it.
Leah Schnelbach never wanted to own a house, but now they REALLY never want to own a house. Come chat with them in the creepy, rustling walls of Twitter!