Euronews Culture's Film of the Week: 'Stopmotion' - The best horror film of 2024 so far

Stopmotion Copyright IFC Films
Copyright IFC Films
By David Mouriquand
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Portrait of a Lady Gorily Unravelling.


From Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard to Nina in Black Swan or Madeline in Josephine Decker’s criminally underseen Madeline’s Madeline, there is an entire subgenre of (usually female) artists losing their grip on reality.

Stopmotion, the debut feature from Robert Morgan, falls into this category, as well as another horror subgenre dealing with the act of filmmaking or filmwatching, like Prano Bailey-Bond's excellent 2021 debut Censor – which also deals with fayed reality.

Operating at the intersection of these two genre spaces – with some distinct echoes of Censor throughout – Morgan crafts an unsettling portrait of the anxieties and fierce dedication intrinsic to the creative process, which culminates in the first great horror movie of 2024.

It all starts with Ella (Aisling Franciosi). She is a talented young artist who is stuck being the hands of her overbearing mother Suzanne (Stella Gonet), a veteran and respected stop-motion animator who is suffering from what appears to be degenerative arthritis. She refers to her daughter as “poppet”, an endearing term of affection which takes on new dimensions, as Ella not only works with her mother’s puppets but also is very much her puppet.

“I don’t have my own voice,” Ella says, realising that all she’s doing is obeying barked orders, painstakingly moving the dolls millimetre by millimetre according to her mother’s vision.

Unspoiled tragedy strikes and suddenly Ella finds herself in a position to embrace her own vision and make the stop-motion film she desires. This is facilitated by a mysterious little girl (Caoilinn Springall), who encourages Ella to lean into the darkness her story would require – a story that only this child seems to know the narrative evolution. The more she gets sucked into the world of this new story, which features “the man no one wants to meet” (the Ashman), the more people start to genuinely worry about Ella’s wellbeing and her increasingly loosened grasp on reality.

“Great artists always put themselves into their work.”

That may be true, but Ella’s about to push the limits of that received wisdom.

StopmotionIFC Films

First and foremost, Stopmotion is a tale of creative emancipation and agency.

The shadow Suzanne casts over Ella is paralysing, stifling her artistic desires through parental oppression. Yet, the child’s liberation leads to the awakening of suppressed trauma and a spiralling which blurs reality and fiction. At the centre of it is stop-motion, which is aptly described as “a wonderful medium” that brings “dead things to life”. Reflecting awakened psychological wounds, the form mirrors the content in a simple for genuinely captivating manner.

Morgan, who is best known for his stop-motion shorts D is for Deloused and Bobby Yeah, achieves this with brio and mines the meticulous art of stop-motion for all its uncanny and unsettling attributes. By reflecting the artform’s demanding nature but also its creepiness through textured creations which become increasingly ominous within the live-action world, he dives into the anxieties inherent to artistic creation.

Central to this is Franciosi, who wowed in Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale and adds very relatable humanity to the chills and bloodiness on show. 

And boy does Stopmotion put the ‘gory’ in ‘allegory’. 

StopmotionIFC Films

The allegory in question isn’t particularly deep, but the not-for-the-squeamish violence and the puppet designs – which give Matthew Holness’ Possum creation a run for its macabre money – lend themselves rather effortlessly to the central meditation on how creation and destruction can be very cosy bedfellows. 

Franciosi makes it gripping; the handmade figurines and their uncanny movements make it disturbing; the enveloping sound design (at times reminiscent of Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio and In Fabric) buttresses the sinister mood; and Morgan ingeniously elevates the material above what could be dismissed as another “tortured artist goes nuts” flick.

Granted, there are several aspects of Stopmotion which any horror fan will recognize and predict from the get-go, as its narrative trajectory does feel familiar at times. However, nothing stops it from being an impressive debut that nails everything it sets out to achieve. More than that, the unnerving film and the questions it raises about what people are willing to sacrifice for their passion, will lodge themselves under your skin for the foreseeable. 

Good luck, poppets. 

Stopmotion is out now.

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