Stop-motion animation is a wonderful art form, largely abandoned in the digital age, and I certainly applaud its use in films with an adult audience in mind rather than just family fare. The House is really a collection of three films from different directors, loosely connected by the same building. They vary in tone though there is a dark, horror-like element to each tale. The first is overt gothic horror about the family for whom the house was built, the second is a Kafka-inspired nightmare of a renovation project, and the third is a more contemplative tale of how other people can support us, hold us back, and sometimes gives us the nudge we need to move forward. As written, however, each of these would have worked better as 15-minute short films; even at around 30 minutes, all three feature repetitive scenes that serve little purpose than to pad out the running time. The art direction still offers much to appreciate, like first tale’s unusually stylised small faces on large heads. Meanwhile the animal character design in the later films share more in common with Wes Anderson’s stop-motion fare. Overall it The House’s ambition to feature-length which renders it a frustratingly uneven experience.
“When you try to bend the ways of the world, I will cheer for you, Birdy, but I fear for you.”
Lena Dunham’s adaptation of Karen Cushman’s YA novel is mirthful medieval mischief, a fresh coming-of-age story that should entertain families beyond its direct target of adolescent girls. This is a feminist tale, with Birdy rebelling against attempts at marrying her off to solve the family’s financial woes. The novel was written in the form of a diary and that is the conceit for Birdy’s voiceover, essentially extracts from the book. The script is recognisably Dunham’s work, frank but generally approaching female hardship with a light touch, aided by a period setting that has no pretence at historical accuracy. The anachronistic soundtrack is also notable, creating an unusually cohesive backdrop through a series of pop covers by London singer Misty Miller. Bella Ramsey is wonderfully expressive as the impetuous Birdy, backed by Andrew Scott’s characteristic blend of comedic charm and emotional depth as Birdy’s profligate father, and an almost unrecognisable Billie Piper as her supportive but concerned mother. The 12A certificate seems appropriate primarily for an intense birthing scene — this is not House of the Dragon, but Dunham does not sanitise it either as it leaves an impression on Birdy, catalysing her changing view of her parents. Rebellious girls are likely to love Catherine Called Birdy; others should find it an enjoyable diversion.