If fairy tales exist as a way for children to grow and learn about the world around them, Cristóbal León & Joaquín Cociña‘s THE WOLF HOUSE can best be described as “The Three Little Pigs” if it were embedded with immense trauma.
The stop motion animated feature follows Maria – a young Chilean woman who escapes a cult of German religious fanatics. She stumbles upon a house in the woods, which is only occupied by two pigs, and decides to take refuge here.
As Maria and the two pigs, Pedro and Ana, gradually transform the house into a lively home rather than merely a shelter, there’s a presence watching over them in the form of the Wolf that wants to eat them. This Wolf, representing the leader of the cult from which Maria escaped, serves as one of the two narrators of the story, lending a sense of palpable dread throughout. Amalia Kassai and Rainer Krause lend their voice acting chops to Maria and the Wolf respectively and both do an admirably effective job.
For THE WOLF HOUSE, León and Cociña took inspiration from the real case of Colonia Dignidad, a commune founded in Chile by former Nazi soldier Paul Schäfer in 1961, where dozens of children were sexually abused. As one can deduce from the horrific source material, it shouldn’t be controversial to claim that THE WOLF HOUSE is one of, if not the darkest animated film ever made.
Shot over the course of several years, THE WOLF HOUSE boasts one of the most stunning technical feats in recent memory. Using digital photography, the film is a single sequence shot with a runtime of roughly 70 minutes. Typically, this would be enough of a reason to warrant one’s interest, but THE WOLF HOUSE offers far more than just this hook. This is an incredibly dynamic film and everything within the film’s world interacts with itself in many ways. Illustrations along the walls and floor interact with 3D objects in the house, all while these 3D objects and characters are often evolving before our eyes.
Stop motion animation has an inherently tactile quality to it, but THE WOLF HOUSE approaches the medium in a highly unusual way. Characters and environments often have an unfinished or unpolished quality to them. Even the wires controlling characters limbs are noticeably visible at certain points. These decisions, while off-putting at first, actually carry meaning to the film’s broader ideas of growth and restoration.
The appearances of these characters constantly change and it’s as if León and Cociña record themselves repairing and dismantling these characters and the world around them. To say it’s fascinating to watch would be an understatement. Meanwhile, the sound design is as equally strange as the movie’s visuals, offering a minimal and organic ambiance that ranges from gentle to unsettling.
The film abandons traditional storytelling in favor of presenting its events as if the entire experience were a dream. As a result, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and occasionally lose sense of what’s happening. Thankfully, THE WOLF HOUSE literally always has something new and impressive to show us, with plenty of imagery offering symbolic substance to chew on.
A labor of love in every way, THE WOLF HOUSE offers an unparalleled experience unlike anything I’ve ever seen. As haunting as it is frustrating, it’s bound to leave many feeling alienated while more adventurous viewers are the most likely to be rewarded by its audacity. Regardless, it’s worth encouraging everyone to at least try it. Despite its unique historical context, this is an endlessly creative film which can be appreciated on a universal scale. Though it would be hard to blame those who don’t desire to return to this house anytime soon once the nightmare is over.
THE WOLF HOUSE originally premiered in February 2018 at the 68th Berlinale Film Festival. It received a virtual U.S. theatrical release on May 15th, 2020.