The Wolf House (2018) (Shudder and VOD rental), directed by Joaquin Cociña and Cristóbal León, is an animated masterpiece that has to be experienced by any fan of experimental filmmaking. Like Jan Svankmajer and The Brothers Quay, Cociña and León redefine the emotional, creepy, and dark paths possible through animation.
The Wolf House centers around Maria (Amalia Kassai), a loner who takes refuge in a house in Southern Chile after leaving a secretive German colony. She has only two pigs for company and the ever-present voice of “the wolf” always just outside the walls of her safe house. This basic narrative setup is purposefully designed to play out like a dark fairytale, an allegory for security and freedom. In terms of just a surreal animated fairytale, The Wolf House would be totally successful. But, the reality that inspires The Wolf House gives this movie a much darker and resonant foundation. You see, this story is based on a real German colony in Chile known as Colonia Dignidad, run by an ex Nazi, Paul Schafer. This real-world, dark past imbues every moment of The Wolf House with a sense of sinister dread.
So, you may wonder what makes this movie so special? The answer is, the animation. This story almost totally takes place in the interior of the titular “wolf house,” both representing a physical and mental escape for Maria. The style of animation is obsessively inventive and always transforming. We may start with a bare room, nothing but wooden walls and simple furniture. Slowly everything is painted black, then white, then a face is formed from paint on the wall, then that face begins to move and animate across the walls.
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This feat alone, would be impressive, as the animator would have to keep repainting the image while painting over the previous image, to achieve the effect. But, then, the image from the wall slowly animates into the space of the room, now three-dimensional. Our figure of Maria and the pigs, now rendered as full-sized paper mache figures, animate and interact, all the while the walls and surroundings also repaint or physically animate. In this fashion, the entire scene constantly evolves to tell the story.
I know all of this might sound very difficult to comprehend, and frankly, words can’t do justice to the level of imagination and artistry at play in The Wolf House. That being said, this movie, even at a scant 75 minutes, might be too dense and obtuse for some moviegoers. But, if you are the type of person who isn’t afraid to take a stroll in the Uncanny Valley, well, you too might share my love for The Wolf House.