“The House” and Its Take on Modern Horror
Reading Time: 4 minutes
With its charming furniture and seemingly endless space, a beautiful, new house on a quiet hill seems like the perfect home for a flourishing family. But when one family begins to settle in, they realize that not everything is as perfect as they had thought. When furniture begins to vanish and strange people appear throughout the house, it becomes increasingly clear that the house holds frightening secrets beneath its unassuming facade. This situation is the premise of one of Netflix’s newest films, “The House,” which portrays a trio of unsettling stories that take place in the same house. The continuity of these peculiar happenings leaves a sense of uneasiness that reaches beyond the confines of the film. On top of the unnerving storylines, the stop motion animation juxtaposes childhood, innocence, and horror, making for a beautifully creepy film.
The three stories are set across separate eras. The first part takes place in the 1800s, when a poor family receives an offer to move into a large, valuable house, free of charge. The second part takes place in a contemporary setting where a property developer is attempting to sell the house, while the final part takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting, where a landlord attempts to restore the house. Though the three stories were created by different directors, they were all written by Enda Walsh, who creates an anxious tone that carries throughout the film. Also constant among the three stories are the strange and frustrating events that occur to the residents living within the house, a standard horror movie trope that gives the film a creepy atmosphere.
Though the film aims for classic horror in its first part, the stories progressively become less explicitly disconcerting. Instead, the second and third parts focus more on the personal issues that the characters face. In the first part, the parents become “hypnotized” by the dream of wealth that the house provides, which blinds them to the issue (the house is not what they were promised) that their daughter, Mabel (Mia Goth), attempts to bring to their attention. This problem eventually culminates in the entrapment of the parents, when they are turned into furniture. While this story is somewhat evocative of “Spirited Away” (2001), in which the main character’s parents are turned into pigs and she is left to fend for herself in a supernatural realm, the beautifully done stylistic components of “The House” put a new spin on a similar story. One such component is the characters’ unsettling facial features. Specifically, their small, beady eyes are concentrated in the centers of much wider faces, adding to the creepy, dreamlike ambiance. These peculiar characteristics add a surreal feel to the film and contribute to a sense of childhood nostalgia, further accentuated by the film’s use of stop motion animation. Additionally, the dim lighting, intense background sounds, and maze-like halls of the house amp up the suspense as the movie progresses.
While the second part maintains some of the horror, the modern setting makes for a less eerie overall mood. With bright white lighting and modern furniture, the second part struggles to maintain the aura of the first. Despite this difference, this part ushers in a more authentic feel. As the developer (Jarvis Cocker) realizes that a strange couple is squatting in the house, he grows increasingly stressed. Instead of using beauty and tension to convey horror, the anxiety that the developer expresses channels the same horror and mystery of the house in a more realistic way. The panic that he feels as he realizes how helpless his situation is conveys a personalized horror that is scary in a more subtle way than other commonly used tropes of the genre.
The final story is similar in that the disappointment and stress of the landlady, Rosa (Susan Wokoma), is still effectively conveyed, despite the brighter aesthetic. The final part uses pastel coloring and natural light for its ambiance. But the constant struggle Rosa experiences while trying to restore the house following a flood, along with the sadness that comes as she realizes how alone she is in her efforts, puts the frustrating properties of the house into focus. It seems as though the house is preventing Rosa from even completing simple tasks like putting up wallpaper. While that effect might be clear from an outside perspective, the forces of the house are unknown to her, causing her to spiral deeper into despondency. Though the character design in the latter parts is less inherently unsettling, their more serious themes like anxiety, loneliness, and failure still manage to juxtapose the film’s stylistic components in a way that is pleasing to experience and prevents the heavy themes from becoming overwhelming.
As much as the three parts’ appearances and stories differ, they are also connected through their constant setting. The unchanging nature of the house adds to its intrigue and helps form a cohesive film rather than three separate shorts. Along with the house, the anxiety that the theme of unwanted guests brings to the characters remains consistent. In the first part, strange workers seem to be destroying the house, not fixing it; in the second, the persistent couple is a gross rodent-insect hybrid; and in the third, against her protests, Rosa’s tenant, Cosmos (Paul Kaye), refuses to stop changing things. Despite their differences, the overall sense that these figures are impeding on the lives and success of the main characters comes across well and adds to the stressful themes of the film. Whether they are removing furniture, crawling on the walls, or destroying floorboards to make an escape boat, these figures seem unlike the main characters in that they are forces of the house, not individuals.
While the stories within “The House” could have easily felt like three unrelated parts, the film ties them together in a way that adds uniqueness and complexity. In addition to the connections across the three parts, the beautiful backgrounds, unsettling character design, and frustrating, personal struggles of the characters make “The House” a modern, innovative horror film.