Stopmotion Shines a Twisted Spotlight on the Dark Side of the Arts

Courtesy of Samuel Dole. An IFC Films and Shudder release.

I’m a huge fan of stop-motion animation. I grew up watching films like King Kong, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, so the technique holds a very special place in my heart. I’ll watch just about anything that uses it. Naturally, when I first heard there was a horror movie called Stopmotion, I knew I had to check it out. I figured it would be right up my alley, and after finally getting the chance to see it, I’m happy to say I was totally right.

Stopmotion was directed and co-written by Robert Morgan, and it stars Aisling Franciosi, Stella Gonet, Caoilinn Springall, and Tom York. The story follows Ella, a stop-motion animator who’s working on a new film under the supervision of her overbearing mother, but that all changes one day when her mother suffers a stroke. The elderly woman can no longer continue her work, so Ella decides to finish the movie on her own.

However, after she meets a mysterious girl running around her apartment building, she changes course. She starts making a new film, and the project soon begins to consume her. The line between fantasy and Ella’s real life becomes paper thin, and she finds herself going to previously unthinkable lengths to make her movie perfect.

I have to be honest, I didn’t love Stopmotion right away. When it begins, Ella is little more than the cliche daughter who’s constantly berated and put down by the perfectionist mother she simply can’t please. It’s the same sad story we’ve seen a million times before, and that’s all there is to the character, at least at first.

A woman in front of a stop-motion filming set
Courtesy of Samuel Dole. An IFC Films and Shudder release.

To be fair, she does get better as the film goes on. Actress Aisling Franciosi eventually gets a chance to show off her fantastic acting chops, and she does not disappoint. Whether she’s cowering in fear, writhing around on the floor, or being a bit more sinister than you ever thought Ella could be, she totally nails it. Franciosi ends up being one of the best things about Stopmotion. However, in the opening scenes, the one-note writing gets both the character and the movie as a whole off to a slow start.

Thankfully though, when the little girl, named Little Girl, comes into the picture, Stopmtion quickly finds its groove. This girl is played brilliantly by Caoilinn Springall. Whenever she’s on screen, she infuses the story with a lively charm that will keep your eyes glued to the screen. What’s more, this character also has an air of mystery about her, making you sit up, scratch your chin, and start theorizing about just what the hell is going on here.

She’s the one who convinces Ella to scrap her mother’s film and start over with an entirely new story. Little Girl even tells Ella what it should be about and what the puppets should be made out of. It’s an usual dynamic, and to add to the mystery, we never get to see her family or her apartment. Something is clearly off here, leaving the audience to wonder just who or what this girl really is. We don’t know if she’s real, a figment of Ella’s imagination, or something even more sinister. And for my money, that uncertainty is utterly tantalizing.

On top of that, the animated parts of this movie are excellent as well. The puppets are super creepy, their movements are smooth and realistic, and the story Ella is filming is pretty intriguing. These scenes add a cool touch that we don’t get in most genre films. As a huge fan of stop-motion animation, I had a blast watching them.

A stop-motion doll
Courtesy of Samuel Dole. An IFC Films and Shudder release.

Then, when reality and fantasy start to blend for Ella, the horror gets even better; the final 15 minutes or so are especially delectable. I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice it to say that this is when the sh*t hits the fan, and it does so with some excellent gore that will have you cringing in pain yourself.

See, unlike in, say, the Evil Dead movies, the gore here isn’t so over the top that most of us just have no idea what it could possibly feel like. Rather, it involves things we can relate to (even if on a smaller scale). We can easily imagine what it must be like to experience them. That relatability will inevitably make us feel the characters’ pain ourselves, so even though this gore isn’t nearly as outlandish as what we get in a lot of other films, it hits just as hard.

Last but not least, I have to say a few words about the meaning behind Stopmotion. Even though the movie never beats us over the head with its message, the way Ella’s work consumes her is a clear allegory for the dark side of the arts. Sure, artistic endeavors like stop-motion storytelling are great, but if we’re not careful, they can also have some very unhealthy and destructive effects on our lives. It’s all too easy to forget that there’s more to life than our art (I say that as a musician, not just a guy who watches movies), and this film embodies that dangerous potential in a dreadfully delightful way.

At the end of the day, I’m happy to report that you should definitely give Stopmotion a watch. While the movie starts off a bit slow, it finds its footing quickly enough, and once it does, it’s pretty much smooth sailing until the credits begin to roll. It features fun horror, two excellent lead characters, and amazing stop-motion animation. If you’re on the lookout for some good new horror, look no further than Stopmotion.

Stopmotion releases in theaters on February 23 and is set to hit VOD on March 15.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters. You can find him on Twitter @jpnunezhorror.

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  1. It was well made, but it was so bland at times I wanted to turn it off. It stopped being a ‘horror’ movie & strayed well enough into David Lynch territory to be derivative & lose its own purpose.

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