2024, R, 103 min. Directed by Robert Morgan. Starring Aisling Franciosi, Stella Gonet, Caoilinn Springall, Tom York, James Swanton.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Feb. 23, 2024

Biblical lore holds that God took clay and gave it life. That’s the art of stop-motion animation, too: taking immobile matter and giving it the semblance of independence. But in Stopmotion, the debut feature of BAFTA-nominated animator Robert Morgan, it is the artist who lacks real free will.

The laborious nature of stop-motion animation explains why Morgan’s disturbing visions have previously been confined to shorts like “Bobby Yeah” and anthology segments like “D Is for Deloused,” his contribution to horror compilation The ABCs of Death. Here he breaks expectations and medium with his live-action feature debut. However, the subject – the uncanny nature of stop-motion – remains the same, and sequences animated by Morgan become dark fantasies that echo and finally devastate the “real” world.

Aisling Franciosi (The Nightingale, The Last Voyage of the Demeter) plays Ella, a talented stop-motion artist who is merely the tool of her mother (Gonet), a legend of the medium whose hands have failed her but whose vision lives on. She cannot undertake the painstaking, now painful, task of moving armatures through an eighth of a second of motion, and so through years of mental and emotional abuse her daughter's nimble fingers are nothing but an extension of her whims. Ella's dreams of undertaking her own project are constantly deferred until a combination of circumstances – an accident, a job offer, and the arrival of a precocious and overly friendly young child neighbor (Springall) – make its creation a possibility.

However, as has been told in countless stories, the act of completing a work of art often comes at great cost, especially when the vision is as dark and twisted as the fairytale menace that Ella wants to bring to fruition.

“Artist consumed by their art” is a whole subgenre of horror, and in many ways Stopmotion adheres to its clearly set rules of mental collapse and the blur between fiction and reality. However, unlike many such creative protagonists, it often seems that Ella knows exactly what is happening (there's a bleak joke about one of the signs of madness that feels like the psychic equivalent of hearing a bone snap). Yet such prophecy becomes insight as Morgan's theme is powerlessness, as expressed through Ella's passivity. Thus is her inevitable and bloody collapse given a rich, tragic poignancy.

And just because it's a familiar tale, that doesn't impact the strength of the retelling. As expertly as he gives life to inanimate objects, so does Morgan warp the barrier between Ella's everyday life, where she has no control, and the nightmarish realm at her fingertips, where she remains subject to psychological forces that threaten to consume her. It's chilling and tragic in equal measures.

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More Aisling Franciosi Films
The Last Voyage of the Demeter
Horror sets sail with the scariest section of Dracula

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 11, 2023

God's Creatures
Stillness and violence in this startling tale of an Irish fishing community

Kimberley Jones, Sept. 30, 2022

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Stopmotion, Robert Morgan, Aisling Franciosi, Stella Gonet, Caoilinn Springall, Tom York, James Swanton

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