The Wolf House has a look and feel like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It uses stop motion animation but exploits the technique in innovative and profoundly creative ways. By its nature all art is creative but Wolf House is driven by the ability to continually rethink the film’s purpose and presentation.
Creativity, in general, can be seen as being able to resist the inertia of a single good idea. Instead of following the momentum of one good idea, the creative person can change directions and rethink the premise or intention of a gesture or image. It’s an ability to be flexible with your approach and the way you construe what you are doing. I read somewhere that you could measure someone’s creativity by asking them how many different things they could do with a brick. The brick has an intended purpose which tends to lock one’s mind into one use but by being creative one can resist that prescribed purpose and discover new uses. You might think of 4 or 5 things and then realize that you could crush the brick into dust and suddenly there are new options. Creativity is the freedom to wander in unexpected directions and then make unpredictable changes.
Chilean Artists Cristóbal León and Joaquin Cociña were able to take the premise and the medium they had chosen and continually turn them space to see them from different vantage points. As a duo, they work in many different media, creating sculptures, installations and books but The Wolf House is an amazing amalgam of their creative gestures. It’s a kind of nesting doll of narratives that reveal themselves by emerging out of each other both literally and figuratively. The film drifts, decomposes, reorients, and disintegrates with the fluidity of a dream. The Wolf House is not just “dreamlike,” watching it truly feels like you are dreaming. Nothing is stable. Every object, every person, every surface, every word is in a constant state of transformation. Nothing stays still. Just as in a dream there is a sense that if you take a second look at your surroundings they will not be what they were a moment ago, or that people or objects are two things at once.
This uncanny instability is deeply unsettling. The character’s bodies have no boundaries. They morph into furniture or animals or dissolve into the floor. The animation switches back and forth between two-dimensional paintings and papier-mâché. To add to the fluidity the two-dimensional paintings are done on three-dimensional surfaces. León and Cociña use an entire house as their canvas. Instead of using layered acetates to animate their paintings, they paint and then repaint the images on the same wall.
South African artist, William Kentridge employed a similar technique in his charcoal animations. Many sequences in his films were made on a single piece of paper where he simply drew one frame, shot it, erased it, and drew a new image for the next frame where the previous one had been while allowing traces of the previous drawings to remain. The result is that the images leave ghostly trails behind them like in an acid trip. Nothing fully disappears. Bodies and movements disrupt each other and the fields in which they move.
Camera angles and movement can be difficult with stop motion, but León and Cociña seem to have mastered them. The camera never rests as it floats through the rooms of the house. Its wide-angle lens and spotlight roaming through the house like chambers in our consciousness. As dreamlike and fanciful as it is the film still conveys a palpable sense of place. You really feel like you are there. All the transformations create a heady, visceral sensation. The film is corporeal and is often more intense than a gory horror movie. People melt into puddles or darkness or fleshy soups. Suddenly someone’s flesh starts rolling up or flaking off and there’s no way to know what they are transforming into, or what they will do.
The story is a patchwork of different fairy tales. The Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood feature prominently but they are subsumed in a rich stew of mythology, folktales, catholic legends, and whatever else lurks in the collective subconscious. The story creates its own logic, its own symbolism, its own internal system that we are drawn into.
We are often unable to wake ourselves from our dreams even if we have a sense that we are dreaming. The Wolf House has the same quality. It casts a pall over you and even as you fear the menacing unpredictability of the imagery you are stuck inside the film.
Honestly, as much as I admired the film I was glad when it was over. The world it creates is so unnerving it begins to wear on you. León and Cociña manage to bring together a high level of skilled storytelling, innovative filmmaking, and expressive mixed media, to create something truly unique. You won’t find any other film like it
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