A 19th century English family of good name but little money, a current day developer who happens to be a rat, and a cat in a future facing climate change come up against obstacles both physical and supernatural as owners of architect Mr. Van Schoonbeek’s “The House.”
Laura's Review: B+
I’m still trying to figure out whether this is an anthology film, which is what it plays like, or a series, which is how it is listed on IMDB. Netflix doesn’t help matters, listing it as a ‘Special,’ but whatever it is, this three part stop motion animation featuring the same manse in three separate time periods is a stunning piece of craft and wild imagination verging from haunting fairy tale to creepy/weird/funny parable to hopeful cat puppet drama.
Part 1, ‘And heard within, a life is spun,’ is Marc James Roels & Emma de Swaef's ("This Magnificent Cake!") 19th century tale of the majestic home’s beginnings. Raymond (voice of Matthew Goode) and Penelope (voice of Claudie Blakley) live in a country cottage with their nine year-old daughter Mabel (voice of Mia Goth) and infant Isobel, whose recent arrival demands a visit from Raymond’s snobbish and disapproving family. After excoriating him for everything from his father’s drunkenness to his own lack of ambition (with cutting remarks made about Penelope’s lovely homemade curtains and clothes), they leave and we are disappointed to see Raymond react by drinking himself into a stupor. Penelope is calm and loving, but taken aback the next day when Mr. Thomas (voice of Mark Heap) arrives to settle the contract Raymond agreed to the night before. It is a deal too good to be true. A fabulously wealthy architect, Mr. Van Schoonbeek, has offered them all the land around their home and the new house he plans to build there on the condition that they move into it. It is opulent, a copy of Mabel’s dollhouse, but as Raymond and Penelope are seduced by its riches and rhythms, care of Isobel falls to Mabel whose explorations reveal some strangely unsettling developments. Felt figures with pinhead eyes and rosy cheeks are full of personality, right down to Isobel, while the English country manse turns into something like Winchester’s Mystery House.
Award winning short animator Niki Lindroth von Bahr's present day piece is wonderfully weird, my favorite of the three. Part II, ‘The lost is truth that can’t be won,’ finds a sports-panted rat (voice of Jarvis Cocker) with tiny, shod feet renovating the house, which, over the years, has been surrounded by a city. The interior has been modernized with great taste, a bronze torso with a tail adorning the bottom of a spiral staircase, a large fish tank featuring one tropical inhabitant a window to the parlor. The rat speaks excitedly to his ‘darling’ about post-sale plans, but just before his open house, he’s faced with a ‘fur beetle’ infestation and receives the wrong food delivery for his canapés. The one strange looking couple (voices of Sven Wollter and Yvonne Lombard) who remain at the end of an exhausting day insist they are ‘very interested in this house’ in oddly sinister European accents. And then they won’t leave. Von Bahr’s production puppet design are intricate and compelling and her story contains bizarre twists and turns as it makes its way to its eerie, fabulistic conclusion.
Jumping into the near future, Paloma Baeza's Part III, ‘Listen again, seek the sun,’ finds a dilapidated boarding house surrounded by water. Its owner, Rosa (voice of Susan Wokoma), loves the place, but her delinquent tenants, black cat Elias (voice of Will Sharpe) and New Ager Jen (voice of Helena Bonham Carter), complain about its drawbacks while offering no rent for repairs. When Jen’s leonine friend Cosmos (voice of Paul Kaye) arrives and throws up a yurt on the premises, Rosa gets angry at the continued freeloading, but if a display of Tuvan throat singing doesn’t win her over, his tool box does. Expecting help with plumbing and a dangerous floorboard, Rosa is shocked to find that Cosmos and Elias have ripped out more boards to build a boat for the young cat’s exit. As watery mists envelop the house and puddles form in the foyer, what will Rosa do? This segment has a softer look than the prior two, the four cats all incredibly distinct and full of character. Baeza’s tale is about the necessity of embracing change in a rapidly evolving environment.
The three tales of “The House” are loosely connected narratively and crafted with three distinctive styles which nonetheless form a cohesive whole. After 2021 proved a somewhat disappointing year in animation, this Netflix anthology kicks off 2022 to a strong start.
Robin's Review: B
We have one house and three stories about it and its denizens at various times over the past century and a half. The oldest story begins when the poor relations living in the house are given a chance of a life restored. Later, a renovator tries to turn a quick buck and, finally, a landlady tries to restore the abode to its past glory in the face of climate change in “The House.”
Story one: the disparity of the classes and the wealthy stranglehold on the working classes is the theme as the rich relations come by to inspect the new baby of poor relations. “It’s a girl!” the matriarch declares in disgust.
Soon, though, a wealthy benefactor offers the chance of a new house and a new life. But, that life is fraught with danger as the mom and dad succumb to the will of the powerful.
Story two: Greed and the struggle for the fast buck with a backdrop of squatters is the “now” story of the house. In this anthropomorphized story, an ambitious rat has sunk all his cash into the renovation of the house. He hopes, when he shows the finished work, to make a quick sale and move on.
There are two problems with his plan, though. One is he that there is a bug infestation problem that is far worse than anything he imagined. More trying, though, are the two weird sisters who come for the open house and refuse to leave. It is the story of unwanted “guests” on two very different levels.
Story three: A climate denying cat tries to hang onto the past and is afraid of the future. She bought the titular building with the plan to restore it to its past glory and attract well to do tenants. But, there is a problem or two with her plan.
Her only two tenants are not the most reliable, especially when it comes to paying the rent. Worse, though, is the water that is encroaching on the hose because of climate change. An unexpected newcomer shows up on her doorstep with a knack for fixing things, giving her new hope for the future.
The stop motion animation is clever and often creepy, especially in story two, with anthropomorphized rats as the characters and two, in particular, with a high creep factor. The titular abode is the linchpin between episodes but each actually stands alone pretty well. The creepiness of episode two made it my favorite.
"The House" premieres on Netflix on 1/14/22.