Thursday, February 21, 2019

Neighboring Scenes ‘19: The Wolf House

If the animators, the Brothers Quay had made Colonia instead of Florian Gallenberger, Emma Watson and Daniel Bruhl, it would have been a much better film. It might have looked a little bit like this film, but not exactly so, because nothing else looks exactly like the remarkable debut animated feature of artists Joaquin Cocina & Cristobal Leon. They plunge viewers into a nightmarish world of fairy tales and Chilean history in The Wolf House, which screens during this year’s Neighboring Scenes: New Latin American Cinema.

Maria Wehrle was punished severely for allowing three little pigs to escape from her German crypto-Christian commune clearly modeled after the Pinochet-supporting Colonia Dignidad, so she follows their example. However, the pastor, a.k.a. the Big Bad Wolf, kept a close eye on her, as his narration explains. After finding refuge a mega-archetypal cottage in the woods, Wehle is reunited with two of her fugitive pigs, whom her fevered mind morphs into children for her to look after. Alas, things take a rather dark turn when they run out of food.

That is sort of the narrative gist of Wolf House, but not really. Story is definitely secondary to Cocina and Leon. They are more concerned with creating a nightmarish world, which they hand-crafted from raw materials as part of gallery installations throughout several countries. This is an extraordinarily macabre manifestation of stop-motion animation that bears comparison to the Quays and Jan Svankmaker. In some ways, it could considered the stop-motion equivalent of some of Terry Gilliam and Bill Plympton’s trippier work.

It is not just the frequently disturbing sight of characters being built up from the inside-out and then broken down again that will unnerve viewers. The Lobo Casa is a decidedly creepy place that would not be out of place in Calvin Reeder’s The Oregonian, which basically gives the audience an all too vivid idea of what Hell looks like (if you haven’t seen it, don’t). The art direction, credited to Cocina, Leon, and Natalia Geisse is impressive, but punishing.

Yes, it is dark and grotesque, but The Wolf House represents some extraordinarily detailed and immersive world-building. Cocina and Leon slyly evoke Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs, without getting slavishly bogged down in analogies. They also might jolly well be onto something when they suggest there is something sinister about a way of life that values security over freedom. Absolutely not for children, The Wolf House is recommended for adventurous animation connoisseurs when it screens this Saturday (2/23) at the Walter Reade, as part of Neighboring Scenes.