In The House, now streaming on Netflix, Nexus Studios has brought together four of the leading voices in independent stop-motion animation to create a dark comedy featuring three surreal tales about a mysterious residence and the individuals who call it their home.
The three stories, set in the past, present and future (with AWN article links to the other two) are as follows:
Story 1: Marc James Roels and Emma de Swaef
In the 1800s, an impoverished Raymond meets a mysterious benefactor who promises to restore him and his family to their former status. The family quickly learns that wishes and desires do not always lead you where you expect.
Story 2: Niki Lindroth von Bahr
These days, a harassed real estate developer is trying to sell a renovation quickly. However, some unexpected guests have other plans and become the catalyst for a more personal transformation.
Story 3: Paloma Baeza
In the near future, the house survives a profoundly changed landscape. Rosa, a young landlady, is determined to stay in her beloved ruined house and restore it to its former glory. But Rosa’s unrealistic vision has blinded her to the inevitable change that is coming and what matters most.
In the second of three interviews, we spoke with director Niki Lindroth von Bahr about why she prefers mice as characters, what it was like to collaborate with other filmmakers, and the degrees of darkness. in animated entertainment.
But first, enjoy the trailer:
AWN: Based on this film and your wonderful award-winning short film Load, you seem to like mice, at least as characters. Do you have a particular affinity for rodents?
Niki Lindroth from Bahr: I always have ideas about the type of animals I use for certain films. In Load, for example, I used animals that were very common in medical experiments. But for The House, it was quite interesting because for the first time I worked with animals at different levels at the same time. We have real insects, we have the developer and the human characters who are portrayed as rodents, and then there’s the really weird couple.
But I chose the mouse as the main character because he’s trying to get rid of those pesky bugs – trying to turn this house into some kind of soulless residence and climb the ladder of wealth and success – while he himself is a pest. It just felt symbolic to me somehow, especially towards the end when he’s losing it and embracing his animal self a lot more.
AWN: How did you get involved in this project?
NLB: All the directors were contacted by Nexus to see if there was a way to collaborate on a project. I have been a huge admirer of the work of Paloma and Marc and Emma, even though I had never met them before. But we all use the same technique, and we share a certain style, even if our styles are also different from each other. And so we met at [producer] Charlotte Bavasso’s house in London, and I just thought about it a bit and came up with this idea of a house where different things happen at different times. We agreed that we would each have our own separate chapter, but still with connections to each other.
I mean, I was a little nervous being in this group of super talented people. But Marc, Emma and Paloma have been so supportive throughout this process. We chatted a lot on Zoom and helped each other with script development and character design, everything. We were all fairly new to such a high-end project, so I think it was a perfect arrangement. You had your own movie, but you didn’t feel alone.
AWN: What does stop-motion offer you more than other animation media?
NLB: It’s a good question. I mean, I really like live action movies. And different techniques within the cinematic medium have their own charm in different ways. But for me, it was mostly about being able to create my own universe and my own characters, and the excitement that comes from starting from nothing. Also, I make the puppets and sets myself. I’m very tactile and I love to be practical and create everything.
It’s a wonderful way to work with realism, but in a kind of higher form. Even if it’s a super boring or ugly environment, or a miniature you make, it’s still a labor of love. In my story in The House, for example, even for this horrible soulless nouveau-riche piece of furniture and stuff, I can put so much love into it. It’s therapeutic for me in a way.
AWN: How did you find the synchronized dance routine at Busby Berkeley? Where does this come from?
NLB: I always enjoy working with contradictions, and while that’s the real beginning of our main character’s downfall, when he starts to totally lose it, I don’t think the process has to be completely horrible. It could also be a lot of fun. I mean, most of us have been invaded by bugs in our apartments or homes, and it’s such an awful feeling. I liked the idea of adding that weird and happy Busby Berkeley style to it, and the challenge of trying to make a gross larva dance in a sexy way. It was just fun.
AWN: How was it for you to work on such a large animated storytelling with so many additional resources at your disposal? How has this affected you as an artist?
NLB: It meant a lot. I was a little nervous at first, diving into something like this and being in charge of a much larger group of people, compared to when it was just me and maybe an assistant or two. It’s something completely different. But I felt that all of a sudden I could focus a lot more on the creative part. It’s been such a pleasure to work with the most talented people in this industry, and they’ve all been so nice.
I spent a few months in Manchester at Mackinnon & Saunders during filming, and also during confinement, with my family. It’s pretty tricky bringing your two-year-old to a place where you don’t know anyone and everything is closed. But just walking into the studio on the first day, I felt like everyone was just close friends to begin with. And that’s so important.
AWN: It’s a pretty dark movie, though it’s easy to imagine an even darker outlook. Did you manage to do it the way you wanted, or did you have to tone it down to take into account that it was a big budget production?
NLB: I think I ended up pretty much where I wanted to end up. I felt like I had surprisingly great artistic freedom in this project. I actually expected it to be less free because it’s so different from the little independent situation I’ve been in before. But I received great support to do what I wanted. I mean, it’s still obviously pretty silly sometimes, but I’m very proud to have gone a little deeper into the darkness. I was definitely inspired by David Lynch songs and thrillers like The tenant and Repulsion. I was quite fascinated by the idea of mental breakdown in this very isolated place and what loneliness does to you. Maybe I’ll make it even darker next time, but I didn’t want it to feel like a full horror movie.
AWN: What do you hope the audience will take away from your chapter?
NLB: A certain itch, perhaps. I don’t go overboard with how I want people to experience my work, but I still find it interesting to see, because I like to keep my audience a little off balance. Like, is it fun? Is it disturbing? I mean, my hope would just be to get a reaction, whether it fits for better or for worse. That you don’t forget it after two minutes is a good thing.
Jon Hofferman is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles. He is also the creator of the Classical Composers Poster, an educational and decorative music timeline that makes a wonderful gift.