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Stopmotion: Where Imagination and Insanity Converge

By Gokul KP

Discover the chilling world of 'Stopmotion' where art and madness collide. Portraying the existential chaos of artistic creation through Ella, a troubled stop-motion animator whose descent into madness defies the lines between fiction and reality, director Robert Morgan's debut feature delves into themes of artistry, obsession, and the struggle for autonomy, accompanied by unsettling animation sequences

Creators and artists often confront many questions throughout the process producing art, or even after it is complete - Is this really my own work? If it does belong to me, where did I get the idea from? Does the message or nature of my art communicate something about who I am as a person or about my morality? Do I actually have the ability to tell where my art ends and real life begins? Am I in control of the art or is the art in some way influencing my actions? Depending on how frequent the occurrence of these feelings is, the questions can induce intense anxiety and varying levels of self-doubt and introspection.

Photo: IFC Films

British director Robert Morgan’s debut film Stopmotion gets these emotions eerily accurate in a beautiful technical piece that projects the horror of the personal into the lifeless and inanimate. Reminiscent of masterpieces like Black Swan by Darren Aronofsky, the mixed animation and live-action movie documents the slow decline of a gifted artist into madness, showing how one can easily be possessed or haunted by their isolation and inhibitions despite (or due to) the commitment to the craft.

Ella (Aisling Franciosi), a young woman living in the UK is helping her mother (Stella Gonet) - a legend in the field of stop-motion animation - finish her last film as she has been afflicted with arthritis. Things aren’t exactly chummy between them, and the tension during their time working together is immediately palpable. Ella believes she doesn’t have any real ‘voice’ or ideas but simultaneously wants to try out working on her own projects. And she isn’t exactly subtle when it comes to expressing resentment towards her overbearing mother.

An unfortunate incident in Ella’s life opens the floodgates of her imagination, from where she goes on a strange creative journey. Instead of continuing work on her mother’s film, as she originally intended, a certain interference from a new character (Caoilinn Springall) nudges her towards starting a different project, using an idea for a narrative that on the surface doesn’t seem to be her own. She eventually spirals into a place that blurs the boundaries between fiction and reality, and as cliche as it seems, that’s quite literally what drives Ella toward the climax of her stop-motion movie. The film progresses as we see her unravel completely, while in parallel we also get to learn about the monstrous predator that she’s trying to evade. 

On the surface, Stopmotion would seem like a fantastical narrative, but it tries to explore some very real and meaningful themes with nuance - be it artistry, disease, death, obsession, rage, or loneliness - using a rather unconventional medium. There’s a lot of focus on skin, flesh, and blood in the story alongside the commonly seen mortician’s wax used to make the stop-motion figures, which are all manipulated by Ella in the pursuit of her supposed artistic perfection. These sequences are breathtaking and nauseating at the same time, and they don’t shy away from directing the discomfort of the characters in the movie toward the spectator. Even barring all the sinister elements of the plot, the movie also reminds us in numerous moments about how draining, difficult, and mind-numbing the process of creating good artwork is. It’s clearly not always going to be sunshine and rainbows.

“Don’t be afraid. Great artists always put themselves into their work”

Morgan, who’s an animator himself, has used stop-motion sequences liberally in the film, and this provides a gory, hallucinatory, yet heartbreaking allure to the scenes. His filmmaking style is undoubtedly the soul of Stopmotion, and Aisling Franciosi’s brilliant performance has made sure the shortcomings in the screenplay don’t take anything away from the overall quality of the movie. The score composed by Lola de la Mata, and the sound design accompanying the stop-motion figures have also contributed significantly to enhancing the mystery and the nightmarish aura of Ella’s psyche.

The crux of the story is in no way unheard of - remove the technical genius and the beautiful acting performances and Stopmotion might have been deemed exceptionally mediocre. But the movie has borrowed some known, overdone tropes and cleverly incorporated a filmmaking technique into the plot in order to establish an unsettling atmosphere and gently guide the audience into what is inevitably a frightening and deranged audio-visual experience.

Stopmotion was the winner of the Special Jury Award in the Official Fantàstic Selection at the 56th Sitges Film Festival in Catalonia, Spain. Robert Morgan was also awarded the Best Director prize at the 2023 Fantastic Fest, an annual film festival in Austin, Texas.


About the Writer:

Gokul KP is a Queer writer and aspiring journalist from Kerala, India. His work, which spans fiction and non-fiction, has appeared on multiple websites and online publications and has covered topics related to mental health, politics, mainstream media, pop culture, and gender & sexuality.

He also tries to use the platforms available to him, including his Instagram account (@kpgokul), to spread awareness about climate change, LGBTQIA+ rights, feminism, etc. He is an ardent 'horror' fan and considers Stephen King a source of inspiration.

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