Review by Sarah Williams
Perhaps the biggest sell of The Wolf House is its radically unhinged animation. It jumps between 2D, 3D, stop-motion, and anything in between as it scraps to follow its story. Rather than feeling messy and tacked together, the end result is a memory book of fairytale horror and reality. It works because the 2D interacts with the 3D, styles melding on screen at the same time to an effect of collaboration of multiple artists coming together to tell a story like it's being retold around a campfire by a group that knows it well.
There is no respite from the horror of this nation, this trapped place in which there has never been a way to flee, and it's a cold reflection of reality. It is the story of a young girl, from Chile's Colonia Dignidad, a German madman, a child predator fanatical with misplaced religious devotion. He has turned this land into a military dictatorship in service of Augusto Pinochet, and she is in danger after coming into trouble for losing three pigs. This last part sounds like the setup to a children's story, some fairytale book read before bedtime. And maybe it does seem to be so from here, as we have three pigs, and we have a house — the wolf house in the woods that our young heroine shelters in, but the broken fairytales of reality are far darker than anything in fiction.
The text grows richer knowing the history of Chile and the events that may parallel the story, but much of that imbued history lesson can be learned from watching it all play out. Would the film play better with the context? Yes, but the learning experience, even though shallower, still plays well for an audience not raised with this knowledge. It's colonial trauma projected onto the life of one young girl, and her youth is only clearer when her story is told through a classic children's tale, and we see the contrast between the typical sheltered childhood, and the fear in her life. The stop motion models are painted, cracking and messy, like a child's experiment come to life. The cobbled together style is eerie, with animation so focused on perfection it's unsettling to see the cracks in these models.
It's not the only recent animated film to tackle raw societal struggles through stop-motion in a powerful manner. Emma De Swaef's This Magnificent Cake! is a soft felt recreation of the horrors of Belgium's imperialist acts. It covers the pain of colonialism in this soft fabric so it's more easily digestible before the subject matter is broken down, while The Wolf House bares the messy underbelly of power struggle early on. This melding of animation is often dark and clashing, the power dynamic clear even within the medium. An exploration of trauma through the myths of childhood, perhaps The Wolf House makes the much needed statement that America has fallen behind on that animation is a medium, not a genre, and the surreality of the tools used to make a film do not have to make it any less raw.
The Wolf House is now streaming in partnership with indie theaters. A list of participating locations can be found here.