La Casa Lobo [CL 2018]

International title: The Wolf House

Info: I embedded the full movie below. Watch it in Spanish/German or download it for English subtitles.

THE PLOT

La Casa Lobo is an animated horror drama set in Chile, where the young woman Maria had fled from her community – the infamous German sect Colonia Dignidad – into the woods. Haunted by a vicious and manipulative wolf, she tries to re-build her life in a deserted house nearby. There, she cares for two little pigs, that soon transform into the human-beings Pedro and Ana. As Maria’s psychological state becomes increasingly troubled and she runs out of supplies, her refuge becomes a terrifying nightmare.

WHAT I LIKE

Visually, the movie is a unique and stunning masterpiece. The directors used stop-motion animation in an innovative way: a sequence of paintings are drawn directly on the walls of furnished rooms. Visual sequences appear and disappear as they are being painted over. In addition, newspapers and masking tape are used for building character models (i.e. papier mâché). Because the character models lack certain human qualities (e.g. facial expressions) and sometimes even parts of their body, while other parts are exaggerated (e.g. only Maria’s head is shown when she sees the bird in her bedroom), the models often look nightmarish. The sequence of drawn images contributes to this unsettling atmosphere. When being painted over, the colors blend and sometimes become blurred, resulting in creepy images (e.g. black paint slowly running over Maria’s face). Overall, many sequences have a dreamlike quality, because the character models and the setting is constantly changing and evolving (e.g. when Maria dissolves in front of her TV), while the camera often shoots from a voyeuristic perspective.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

Although the art direction is generally impressive, there are a few moments of uneven animation quality. The three-dimensional setting doesn’t always work perfectly, as some room transitions are hard to follow (e.g. when Maria searches the house or the sequence in the kitchen). In addition, there are scenes, where the constantly changing surroundings become distracting, e.g. when Maria cares for her pigs, the straw on the ground is different in every frame. Lastly, there are some moments, where the camera is out of focus or central elements are slightly blurry (e.g. in the kitchen sequence). These moments are seldom but also potentially distracting. Also, it should be noted that there is really only a fragment of a plot and Maria as a character remains cryptic (while Pedro and Ana are hardly individual characters at all).

THE VERDICT

La Casa Lobo is basically an animated dark fairy tale that achieves a wonderfully haunting atmosphere due to the unique and disturbing animation. It’s an art movie in the truest sense of the word and the art direction – namely stop-motion animation with three-dimensional paintings and papier mâché characters – is stunning. While the characters remain mostly vague and the plot cryptic at best, the dreamlike quality and eerie atmosphere really take the crown. All in all, La Casa Lobo feels like you’re watching a slowly evolving nightmare that, although it’s not entirely yours, is still terrifyingly creepy.

Overall 9/10

INTERESTING FACTS

– About halfway into the movie, after Maria’s children were nearly burned alive, Pokémon stickers are visible on the desk in their room (e.g. Jigglypuff and Torchic).

– The Chilean directors Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña first experimented with taking photograph sequences on the walls of a room for their short films Lucía [2007] and Luis [2008], a two-part love story that utilizes the fragmented animations to express the troubled nature of the protagonists’ romantic love.

– The movie was completed over the course of 5 years and reportedly cost about US$290000. Most scenes were photographed as live installations in art museums (e.g. in Theater Kampnagel Hamburg, Germany).

– Colonia Dignidad, formally called La Sociedad Benefactora y Educacional, was a real-life German community in the South of Chile. The sect was founded in 1961 by Paul Schäfer and was infamous for its inhumane and brutal living conditions. The directors León and Cociña claimed that the wolf was based on Paul Schäfer (cp. Schäfer means shepherd in German).

Further reading about the aspect of trauma in La Casa Lobo:

https://www.academia.edu/40305726/_I_Dream_Things_Trauma_Work_in_La_casa_Lobo

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