Netflix’s animation anthology uses domesticity as a basis to cleverly cover larger social commentary.
I always look towards episodic narratives within film with a sense of scepticism. The carousel of stories often loses my engagement as characters and environments are swiftly swept under the rug in favour of plot-independent replacements . Because of this, I did not anticipate my viewing of The House as being particularly enjoyable but was gladly proven wrong by the film’s end. What The House has up its sleeve is the through line of the titular building as it provides a thematic constant through each of the three chapters. That being said, the metaphorical power of the house does not under go a blanket use however as its symbolism and relationship with the characters shifts from each plotline to the next.
From the outset, the cotton candy aesthetic of the animation presents a unique art style which seems oddly fitting across the film. It exists as a quirky hybrid between the works of Burton as well as the animated features of Wes Anderson. This is especially channelled through the latter 2 chapters as they instil a similar use of anthropomorphism. That being said, there is a visual uncanny created in The House which seamlessly blends with the film’s uncanny nature: from small facial feature to face proportions to the disturbingly slender physique, the characters feel oddly extra-terrestrial.
Chapter 1 follows a poor family of three as they are presented with the incredible opportunity to leave their small cottage and take up residence in a much larger and modern home – all rent free. The too-good-to-be-true sentiment slowly starts to surface as the trio deal with strange happenings within the house usually at the hand of the mysterious architect, Mr. Van Schoonbeek. This chapter mainly distinguishes itself through its horror imagery such the reoccurrence of creepy smiling men and rattling strings which, in turn, drive up the anxiety factor as the story continues to progress. Its purpose extends beyond simply ‘spooking the audience’ but instead allows for a more allegorical take to be inferred. Themes of alienation and displacement protrude throughout with the antidote for the characters simply being ‘conformity’. Parallels could therefore be made between the chapter and ideas of assimilation as the characters seemingly start to abandon their pasts and lose a grasp of their own identities.
Chapter 2 brings the titular house into the modern setting as we follow a developer (voiced brilliantly by Jarvis Crocker) as he struggles to finish and subsequently sell the home to potential customers – and also, he’s a rat. If the animation style of the film were to elude you into thinking this film was made for kids, this chapter will persuade you otherwise – but still, the profanity and sweet talking of Crocker’s rat only ramps up his suave factor even more so. The humour is much more apparent in this sequence with some parts honestly making me laugh out loud. This is in large part due to Crocker’s delivery as well as an array of visual gags littered throughout. The deep focuses allows for these to further shine through as we gain a larger insight into the interactions between characters and the space of the house -a feature partly missing in the first chapter. It is clear elements of social satire remerge albeit through a much more abstract delivery. Still, one must admire this ambiguity I suppose as the chapter opens itself up for a plethora of different readings.
The final chapter has to be my favourite. The story of a disgruntled landlady struggling to renovate her house amidst a rising flood and a company of oddball tenants really had me invested. This is in large part due to the character’s themselves as, despite their little screen time in the context of the film as a whole, still seem layered and frankly, lovable. Jen (Helena Bonham Carter) is a particular highlight as she exudes a comical cat representation of ‘hippy, herbal’ obsessed middle-aged women. Along with her equally eccentric boyfriend, Cosmos, the pair radiate an element of fun and ultimate wholesomeness amongst the chapter’s rather catastrophic setting. The parallels between the story’s rising flood and real climate change appear no coincidence yet culminate in an ingenious ending which speaks beyond the film’s boundaries regarding what we should be doing to address the matter.
That being said, the endings of first two chapters do lack a real punch or ultimate sense of pay off in comparison. Though they allow for an ‘ahh I get it’ kind of response, there is a particular sense of closure missing which is much more apparent at the end of the third chapter. In short, though satisfying to see play out, the first two endings did want me to say a small ‘is that it?’ beneath my breath. All in all however, despite failing to stick the landing in some places, the film still had me thoroughly engaged and entertained consistently. Also, that song at the end has to be the greatest thing on Earth I’m convinced.