Ella Blake (Aisling Franciosi, "The Nightingale," "The Last Voyage of the Demeter") keeps putting off friends in order to help her mother (Stella Gonet, "Spencer") finish what she believes will be her last film.  As mom’s hands have atrophied with arthritis, Ella allows that her mom is the brains while she provides the hands for filming “Stopmotion.”

Laura's Review: B-

One can see such cinematic references as 1953's Vincent Price starrer "House of Wax," Polanski's "Repulsion" and the 1975 television movie 'Trilogy of Terror's' final segment 'Amelia' in which Karen Black is terrorized by a Zuni warrior doll in cowriter (with Robin King)/director Robert Morgan’s ("ABCs of Death 2") feature directorial debut.  This depiction of a stop motion artist’s descent into madness brought on by her mother’s controlling nature is a great platform for some terrifically creepy stop motion imagery, but things which should be elements of surprise are obvious from the get go.

We’re introduced to Ella on a rare break from mom, out with boyfriend Tom (Tom York, TV's 'Poldark') at a dance club where flashing colored lights alternately announce our protagonist as someone normal and something demonic.  At home she cuts her mother’s breakfast steak into manageable pieces before, dressed in matching blue smocks that look like lab coats, they both begin to work.  After another night out, Ella’s just gotten to bed when Suzanne demands they get to work.  Ella neglects to cut up mom’s steak and Suzanne retaliates by barking orders about millimeter movements of a felt Cyclops doll, ultimately demanding she ‘not move a muscle.’  Ella complies.  Is it a coincidence that Suzanne’s endearment for her daughter, poppet, sounds so much like puppet?

The next thing we know, it’s Suzanne who can’t move a muscle after a stroke lands her in the hospital.  Tom wants Ella to move in with him, but she insists on getting a fresh start and moves into an apartment in a vacant council block which, nonetheless, hosts a rather intrusive little girl (Caoilinn Springall, "The Midnight Sky") whose noise distracts Ella, intent on finishing her mother’s film in this new space.  Muscling her way into Ella’s apartment, the child asks for an explanation of what’s she’s doing, then declares the project boring.  She has her own ideas about the tale that Ella should tell, beginning with a little girl lost in the woods who takes shelter in an abandoned house where she will be visited three nights in a row by The Ash Man (a story reminiscent of the film in “Censor”).  Under the kid’s influence, Ella begins working with mortician’s wax, raw meat and a dead fox, raising alarms with Tom and his sister Polly (Therica Wilson-Read, TV's 'The Witcher') when her own body appears to be her next medium (those with an aversion to gore are hereby warned).

Morgan uses his experience with stop motion to great effect here, his puppets’ eeriness amplified by sound design and a score by Lola de la Mata that sounds like a squeaky playground swing combined with someone banging on slack piano strings.  The film has a dingy aesthetic, Felicity Hickson’s ("In the Earth") production design leaning on industrial hues with little visual interest other than the odd angles cinematographer Léo Hinstin ("No Escape," "Nocturama") brings to it.

Franciosi is frightening as Ella’s meek submission turns into obsession, the petite actress believably exhibiting great strength as Ella descends into madness, but while the actress convinces, her character’s psychology is underwritten if plain to see.  Still, Morgan knows how to unsettle an audience and “Stopmotion” should please fans of the genre.

Robin's Review: C+

IFC Films releases “Stopmotion” in theaters on 2/23/24.  It will be available everywhere you rent movies on 3/15/24 and begin streaming on Shudder on 5/31.