Combustible Celluloid Review - Stopmotion (2024), Robin King, Robert Morgan, Robert Morgan, Aisling Franciosi, Therica Wilson-Read, Stella Gonet, Tom York, Caoilinn Springall, James Swanton
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Aisling Franciosi, Therica Wilson-Read, Stella Gonet, Tom York, Caoilinn Springall, James Swanton
Written by: Robin King, Robert Morgan
Directed by: Robert Morgan
MPAA Rating: R for violent/disturbing content, gore, some language, sexual material and brief drug material
Running Time: 93
Date: 02/23/2024

Stopmotion (2024)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Something to Move

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Gory and hallucinatory, Robert Morgan's body horror film Stopmotion isn't afraid to go all-out with its bizarre, symbolic imagery, its unsettling sound design, and — best of all — its eerie, creepy stop-motion animation.

Ella (Aisling Franciosi, The Nightingale, The Last Voyage of the Demeter) is a stop-motion animator, working with her mother, Suzanne (Stella Gonet), a noted filmmaker. Suzanne's hands are palsied and all but useless, so Ella must be her "hands," making all the minute, delicate movements on her mother's puppets.

When her mother has a stroke and ends up in the hospital, Ella at first tries to finish the film, and then decides to make her own film. Stuck for ideas, gets some inspiration from a strange little girl (Caoilinn Springall) that wanders by. The girl tells a story about a young girl in the woods, stalked by a mysterious thing called the Ash Man. She insists that the figures be made first of mortician's wax, then meat, then the bodies of dead things. As Ella becomes more involved in making the film, and as her reality becomes more and more fractured, she realizes that her fate and the little girl's have become entwined.

A feature writing and directing debut by Morgan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Robin King, Stopmotion lures us in with what seems like a perfectly understandable story. It's about a woman's struggle to express her own creativity, and to get out from under her abusive mother's shadow. And it's about the fear that we might not, at the end of the day, have anything really to say.

But as it goes deeper into its bizarre world with its parade of unexpected imagery and strange plot turns — along with its intense sound design, ranging from a muffled effect when Ella is unable to focus, to slurping sounds (both relating to a juice box and to bodily fluids) — it becomes much more complicated. It's a movie about making a movie about life, death, birth, blood, bodies, ideas, monsters, and imagination… or perhaps it's just a movie about surviving.

By the time it reaches its mind-bending conclusion, it's hardly a narrative movie at all, recalling such awe-inspiring works of stop-motion animation as The Wolf House or Mad God, or even the twisted animations of Czech artist Jan Svankmajer. Stopmotion may not necessarily be memorable for its story or characters, but its images and ideas will haunt viewers long after.

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