Fantastic Fest Review: 'The Wolf House' (2018)
The Surreal Ghoulishness of Making a Pig of Yourself
The Wolf House or La Casa Lobo is one of the most unique stop-motion animated films you’ll ever come across. From Chilean filmmakers Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León, The Wolf House is a supposed retelling pulled from the German colony archives from the Chilean Government and revolves around a woman named Maria forced to spend 100 days and 100 nights in an isolated cabin in the woods with two pigs, one male and one female, while taking refuge from a wolf whose presence is always felt but is rarely seen. The film draws inspiration from Chile’s Colonia Dignidad; a torture camp ran by a nasty cult where children were sexually abused with a dash of slavery and a hint of Nazism being thrown in for good measure.
The animation in The Wolf House is what makes it so unique. Each frame of the film is painted and re-painted over and over again, sometimes in the same room, while each figure is shown being materialized from nothing. The entire film is constantly constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed over and over again and it’s a sight to behold. Each frame loads like an old Playstation video game with the lamp sitting on the table in the corner loading first while the curtains on the window and the paint on the wall load as you get closer to it. The film looks like a mix of stop-motion and traditional mediums like paint, charcoal, and paper mache. Items in the middle of the room will be assembled strand by strand while Maria or her two pigs Ana and Pedro often appear painted on the wall while also occupying the ceilings and floors; think Prismo from Adventure Time.
But given the film’s inspirations it seems pretty obvious that this won’t be a lighthearted tale. The Wolf House has this dark and unsettling atmosphere that continuously snowballs into even darker imagery that will likely haunt your nightmares. The film seems to make a permanent residence in the button-eyed Other World of Coraline. That sense of uneasiness where nothing feels right and danger lurks around every corner is amplified the longer you’re stuck in this house with these creatures who may or may not be going insane.
The storyline doesn’t make a ton of sense. Other than what it was inspired by, the purpose and motivation these characters have become clouded and unclear extremely early on. Maria enters this cabin with two pigs, but a silly game where she imagines them with human hands and feet suddenly turns them into a little boy named Pedro and a teenage girl named Ana for the rest of the film. Maria spends the film attempting to teach the pigs how to be human, a fire breaks out while they’re eating which scars Ana and Pedro, but they persevere by agreeing to be beautiful and handsome instead of ugly and misshapen. Once they run out of food, Ana and Pedro attempt to whet their unsatisfied appetites with the intention of eating Maria. Maria has been hearing the whispered voice of the wolf the entire film, which she has chosen to ignore up until this point. You never really figure out if the pigs actually evolve into human kids or if this is just how Maria sees them.
The Wolf House seems to aim to make its audience uncomfortable over its exhausting duration. The animated film is only 73-minutes long, but it is a chore to get through. Unfortunately, the film comes off as pointless otherwise offering little reasoning to its hellish imagery. The harsh animation of the film compliments what feels like a physical manifestation of madness felt during extreme isolation. Maybe it takes 100 days and 100 nights to completely lose our minds and this is Maria’s perspective of the before, during, and after completely plunging herself down the darkest rabbit hole imaginable. Taking five years to complete with sets built to human size and showcased in venues across the country during the film’s production, The Wolf House has an animation style that blurs the line between reality, our darkest fears, and absolute madness. It’s a shame it isn’t a more enjoyable expedition overall since it’s the type of film that is sure to stir up a lively conversation with others who have seen it and yet isn’t something you’d really want to recommend to others.
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© 2018 Chris Sawin