Stopmotion has a seriously cool concept, and it’s surprising nobody thought to do it before now. Director Robert Morgan has made a horror movie that mixes live-action performances with, as the title infers, stopmotion-animated creatures. The idea is wrapped inside a story about a woman who specializes in such animation. That whole self-referential approach allows the film to become seriously F’ed up – and that’s a compliment.

Ella Blake (The Last Voyage of the Demeter’s Aisling Franciosi) is an animator working for her mother, a filmmaker of never-ending demands. When mom suffers a stroke, Ella decides to finish the project they were working on. She rents out an apartment, which is where she meets an unnamed girl (Caoilinn Springall) who hangs around the building. The kid suggests coming up with a more personal story to tell, then makes a series of increasingly demented suggestions, the least of which is using raw meat in the process to make the figures look more “real.”

Here's where it gets wild. Although the girl is encouraging Ella to be original, she’s also feeding her a tale about a frightened child stalked by an evil “Ashman.” No sooner does work begin than Ella starts being plagued by hallucinations very similar to what she’s animating. Her creations even appear to come to life around her at times. You don’t need to be Albert Einstein to recognize that things in Stopmotion are not entirely what they seem. The significance of the girl and the inherent meaning behind the Ashman story snap into focus during the movie’s awesomely nightmarish conclusion.

The animation is a major part of what makes the film special. Ella’s figures are insanely creepy looking. Every time they popped up onscreen, I grew discomforted. That was especially true whenever they interacted with Ella in the real world or, as in a couple eerie scenes, grew to uncommon size. The third act makes the most effective use of them as the line between reality and fantasy is blurred in a shocking manner. Some of the visuals in this section will haunt your dreams.

Franciosi delivers a good performance as Ella. She conveys the sense that the character is struggling to maintain her hold on sanity. Dramatically, the film needs a slight expansion on the relationship between Ella and her mom. Only a few occur before the stroke, rendering it a one-note hard-nosed mother/eager-to-please daughter dynamic. Given the themes that eventually emerge, a little additional nuance would have made them hit even harder.

Other than that minor issue, Stopmotion is a compulsively watchable phantasmagoria that deals with imagination, trauma, creativity, and sublimation of personal demons into art. Thanks to the uncanny animation, there’s nothing else quite like it. Prepare to be rattled.

out of four

Stopmotion is rated R for violent/disturbing content, gore, some language, sexual material, and brief drug material. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan