Stopmotion Movie Review | A Disturbing Meditation on Creativity and Trauma

There’s a moment in a later Simpsons episode, where Bart and Lisa meet Aardman genius Nick Park. After Lisa shakes his hand, his fingers come off. He tells Lisa that he will put them back on, as he has become more clay than man now. 

In Robert Morgan’s debut feature Stopmotion Ella (Aisling Franciosi, best known for The Nightingale) similarly has stopmotion consume her entire being. It’s a disturbing meditation on the relationship between creativity and psychosis (thanks to my partner, Nicoletta Wylde, for that one!) and parental trauma. It feels authentic, because it comes from Morgan’s life as a stopmotion animator and the toil it has taken on his mental health. 

Morgan’s mostly-DIY shorts, however, are as far away from the genteel warmth of Wallace and Gromit as you can get. If you have seen ABCs of Death 2 you would have seen his segment D is for Deloused, but his award winning short Bobby Yeah is probably his signature work. Morgan’s shorts are blasts of pure nightmare fuel, disgusting but undeniably impressive. They demonstrate an ability to depict horrors you didn’t even know resided in the depths of your subconscious. Stopmotion is his feature-length debut and is ostensibly a live action piece, though there is a large amount of his sickly looking animation as part of it. 

Ella is a sheltered young woman who lives in the shadow of her renowned animator mother. Since her mother has arthritis, Ella essentially acts as her hands, moving the armatures for her final film. Speaking to her boyfriend Tom (Tom York), she pointedly tells him the film is not hers. She also acts as her mother’s carer in every other way. Early in this portion of the film, the subtle microaggressions of domination give you the sense of the controlling, unhealthy relationship she has with her mother. Even her mother’s cutesy pet name “poppet” is a deliberate nod to Ella’s place in this household.


When her mother has a stroke, Ella eventually decides to finish the film herself. She moves into a studio apartment in a seemingly deserted building that is due to be gutted. However, when she encounters a strange little girl (an excellent Caoilinn Springall) — who is seemingly one of the building’s only resident — the girl convinces her to make her own film, based on a story the girl tells Ella. As Ella is convinced to take more extreme measures to make her film, the pursuit of this creation begins to take over her life, and the lines between reality and stop motion begin to blur.

The most obvious comparison for this film is Prano Bailey Bond’s Censor. It is a worthy addition to the canon of films that focus on femme psychosis, as catalogued by Kier-la Janiss in her landmark tome House of Psychotic Women. Indeed, whilst watching the film it recalled Isabelle Adjani’s unhinged performance in Possession. It also brought to mind Joe BegosBliss — another film that focused on a young artist struggling with writer’s block and the creative process. 

Whilst the film is slow at points, it came together for me in its conclusion. The narrative, however, is not the most important aspect of the film; for me, Stopmotion is an experiential descent into Morgan’s hermetically sealed universe. The film could be set in suburban London, but really these suburban liminal spaces are just Morganworld. 

From early on, the astounding sound design places us in Ella’s mindset in subtle ways. This audio manipulation mixes seamlessly with Lola De Mata’s fantastic score. Combined with the brilliant cinematography by Léo Hinstin, the film positions us perfectly in Ella’s subjective viewpoint. This, as you can imagine, is a claustrophobic space in which to spend an entire film, and the movie does feature some fairly lengthy self-harm sequences that will trigger some viewers (make no mistake, however, this is a psychological affair and not part of my extreme horror series). 

If this is something you feel up to viewing, seek it out and watch it on the big screen — or at least a dark room with a decent sound system.

Stopmotion is currently on limited release and will be coming to Shudder May 31

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