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One of the most affecting and jaw-droppingly original horror films I’ve seen in some time, “Stopmotion” demands to be seen.

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Plato said, “Creativity is a divine madness.” Aristotle said, “No great genius was without a mixture of insanity.”

I’ve never met a truly obsessive artist — the kind compelled to create like it’s akin to breathing — who wasn’t lugging around a heft of baggage, with countless inner demons exorcised through artistic expression.

Perhaps some great genius exists outside of madness, but I’m inclined to think history’s most important philosophers were right. There’s a fine line between creativity and insanity, and most prolific artists walk that line like a delicate tightrope.

An artist’s driving force is an obsession and a relentless and utterly compelling need to birth a creation into the world — unphased by the amount of blood, sweat, and sacrifice such labor requires.

From the outside looking in, it’s easy to wonder why anyone would willingly choose to suffer so much for their art. From the inside, however, it hardly feels like a choice at all.

It’s that consuming, often agonizing, relationship between the artist and her art that the British, adult-animated, psychological horror film Stopmotion explores in the most wretched and riveting way.

“Great artists always put themselves into their work.”

It’s a haunting and distressing masterpiece that affected me in ways I barely have words to express.

Blending live-action with nightmare-inducing stop-motion animation, Robert Morgan’s feature directorial debut is an absolute shudder-inducing treat for horror fans. But its real potency lies in its exploration of the drive of an artist and the high cost of creativity.

It’s a subject Morgan is all too familiar with.

He’s been making innovative and disorienting stop-motion films exploring the depths of the subconscious since the 1990s. Even if you haven’t spent time exploring the surreal, hallucinogenic nightmare-scape that is his brilliant YouTube channel, you may be familiar with his hauntingly beautiful and unnerving creations if you’ve seen ABCs of Death 2 and experienced his segment D is For Deloused.

He’s perhaps most famous for his BAFTA-nominated short Bobby Yeah, and it’s his experience working on that passion project that partially inspired Stopmotion — and the idea of a project taking on a life of its own, causing the artist to lose themself in the art.

Stopmotion is largely a tribute to the meticulous, strenuous, time-consuming art of stop-motion animation that Morgan intimately understands.

The beginning of the film is extraordinarily effective at communicating the laborious and obsessive process of creating this kind of art — where it takes hours to film mere seconds of footage.

It’s enough to drive you mad simply by experiencing it vicariously.

The story follows a stop-motion animator, Ella (Aisling Franciosi, The Nightingale, The Last Voyage of the Demeter).

Her mother, Suzanne (Stella Gonet), is also a stop-motion filmmaker who has experienced considerable acclaim in her career, making Ella feel as if she’s living in her accomplished mother’s shadow.

With Suzanne suffering from crippling arthritis but determined to finish one more film before she dies, Ella spends her days serving (as she puts it) as the hands to her mom’s brains. However, their working and professional relationship is wrought with tension and strife.

Ella is desperate to be valued for her creative ideas as much as her technical expertise, but her mother belittles and undermines her at every turn.

Still, when Suzanne falls into a stroke-induced coma, Ella commits to finishing her movie out of a sense of duty and obligation. With the help of her boyfriend, Tom (Tom York), she secures a flat to continue her work free from distraction.

She continues, diligently but joyously, until a young neighbor girl (Caoilinn Springall) shows up to inquire what Ella is working on. Ella shows her the completed work on her mom’s short, but the girl is unimpressed. She calls the film boring and urges Ella to tell a more compelling story.

The girl offers up a suggestion, a tale of abject horror.

Once the seed is planted, Ella can’t get visions of the haunting tale out of her head.

“I’m scared of what will happen if I carry on, and I’m scared of what will happen if I don’t.”

She becomes consumed with bringing it to life, tabling any future work on her mother’s film.

The girl continues to visit and inspire Ella’s creativity, all the while driving Ella into a deeper state of withdrawal and artistic consumption. Ella obeys the girl’s every command to make more realistically horrifying puppets using more and more extreme and disturbing materials — creating life from literal death.

There’s something not quite right about Ella’s young muse and master, and you’ll understand exactly what from the beginning.

Morgan isn’t interested in a shocking reveal or plot twist. Rather, he wants to put you inside the head of the tortured artist and experience the world from her perspective.

As Ella struggles to bring the borrowed story to life and, in the process, attempts to prove her worth as an artist, she begins to lose her grasp on reality. The cost of her passion is exorbitantly high, taking everything of value in her life — her relationships, her health, and her very sanity.

As Ella’s life becomes a living nightmare, her suffering is mirrored in the film-within-a-film as we watch her grim and ghastly story play out.

It’s a twisted fairytale made uniquely horrifying thanks to the real star of the show: the creepy figures crafted by make-up effects designer Dan Martin.

As fantasy and reality begin to blur, the film pulls out all the stops to exquisitely immerse the viewer in Ella’s hellscape of pain, paranoia, and compulsion.

Stopmotion is an unyielding visceral assault on the senses, ensuring constant distress and unease.

From Léo Hinstin’s sublime, surreal cinematography to Felicity Hickson’s expertly crafted, often oppressive production design to the appropriately absorbing and dread-inducing sound design (Ben Baird) and score (Lola de La Mata), it’s the perfect blend of grotesque and beautiful that creates a unique and indelible viewing experience.

It’s all carried by a spellbinding performance from Franciosi, masterfully delivering layers of character complexity, anguish, insecurity, desperation, and longing. She makes for a believably flawed yet sympathetic protagonist, and her downward descent is painfully difficult to watch… though unquestionably captivating.

Yes, Stopmotion is, as the title implies, very specifically about the painstaking art of stop motion, but it’s also more broadly about any creative process and its power to consume its creator.

It’s a film that anyone who engages in artistic endeavors can and will relate to on some level.

With a script co-written by Robin King, STOPMOTION is as relatable and gut-wrenching as it is truly harrowing.

Even if you’ve never been driven to the brink of madness for your art — even if you’ve felt that level of obsession and isolation — the relentless drive, the pursuit of perfection, the plague of imposter syndrome, and the fear of not having something truly meaningful to say are almost universal artistic torments.

The ending is horrific, an unholy union of body horror and psychological trauma manifesting in darkness, rage, anguish, and brutality for an unforgettably chilling and show-stopping finale.

Even for seasoned horror fans, it’s hard to watch at times, with unflinchingly gory and devasting scenes best watched through the tiny crevice of fingers tightly blanketing your eyes.

With its creepy atmosphere, monstrous visuals, powerful lead performance, and inventive blend of live action and uncanny stop motion, it will keep you on the hook like a puppet on a string — haunting your nightmares.

If you also happen to be an artist, prepare to be tortured… in the most exquisite way.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 5
Stopmotion opens on U.S. screens on Feb. 23rd (a general VOD release will follow on March 15th before landing on Shudder on May 31).

Want a second opinion? Check out this alternate take on Stopmotion from my colleague. 

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