Unless you go in knowing what it’s about, it’s hard to watch The Wolf House and understand it completely. Outside of a brief synopsis that offers a little bit of insight, nothing in the film will actually say what’s happening as it sends you on a psychedelic acid trip made out of creepy paper-mache. It’s “Three Little Pigs” meets “Red Riding Hood” set in a house in Hell. Only 75 minutes long, it feels like two hours. A Chilean stop-motion animated horror film, its natural title is La Casa Lobo, and it’s a propaganda film spoken entirely in hushed whispers.
It’s not literally a propaganda film. Kind of like a mockumentary but without the documentary part. The film is presented by a small, reclusive community in Chile that’s never named, but referred to only as “The Colony” or “The Society.” A quick dive into the film’s history, however, will reveal that the community in question is Colonia Dignidad, a real colony founded south of Santiago in 1961 by a group of Germans that fled after WWII. The leader of the colony, eventually turned cult, was Paul Schafer, a convicted pedophile and Nazi.
The film opens with an introduction that feels like those absurdly cheerful videos about “hugs not drugs” in grade school, where it’s explained to be a presentation put on by the Colony for the outside public in an attempt to “dispel the horrible rumors” about them. The brief introduction is filmed like a welcome video tour of the Colony, full of images made to look like happy Amish country, and then the actual film begins.
The Wolf House is very much a dark fairytale, and like any fairytale, it tells a lesson of obedience. It focuses on a young girl named Maria who one day was disobedient and punished for it. Rather than take her cruel punishment like a good girl, she flees the Colony into the surrounding wilderness for a life of independence. Not long after, a large wolf finds her and chases her deeper into the woods where she’s forced to take refuge in an abandoned house.
Inside the house, she finds two baby pigs and becomes their mother. The three end up staying there for years (maybe months, it’s never clear), as the wolf patiently waits outside. His voice, like a dark hymn, calls her name all throughout the night. “Maria. Maria. Maria,” he chants, playing nice. “I was very harsh on Maria, but it will be good for her.” He is not really a wolf but Schafer hunting her down.
From there the film gets super surreal. It is a stop-motion animation made from paper-mache so a dreamlike creep factor was pretty much a given. The house is connected to Maria directly and changes to match her moods, fears, and thoughts. Essentially the third little pig in their strange family of three, Maria’s power to shape the world around her eventually bleeds into her two piggy adoptees as she turns them into human children. Pedro and Ana.
She’s given them life but is ill-equipped to manage it, and soon this freedom turns against her.
Themes of innocence, naivety, fear, and hunger, in more ways than one, are all on display in The Wolf House, but given the Colony’s purpose of the film, it’s all used against poor Maria. We watch Maria go from child to mother then back to a child again, from liberated survivor to frightened victim, her spirit is beaten down until she’s meant to believe that life on The Colony is actually better. As time goes on, the house and the two children become more nightmarish. They’ve grown beyond Maria’s influence and the wolf’s quiet, unseen, presence begins to suffocate her.
This review’s title is actually misleading because this isn’t the creepiest animated film since Coraline, it’s much creepier than Coraline. I honestly never got what everyone liked about Coraline and never really thought it was all that frightening, even though everyone else did, but The Wolf House is definitely an eerie little film, disturbing and beautiful in its pastel-colored grotesqueness. The animation is a horror show all its own.
Watching the animation shift from form to form, accompanied by a crackling sound like a thousand cockroaches crawling up and down the walls, is just unnerving. You’ll be completely transfixed, unable to look away, and if you watch it in the dark it’ll sound like those creeping cockroaches are all around you. The icing on the cake is the film’s chosen silence. The characters whisper their dialogue as if they’re whispering for the purpose of not waking the dead.
It is an acquired taste. Not exactly fun to watch, or even that exciting. It will demand your full attention so if you aren’t willing to give it, maybe skip it. The Wolf House is directed by Cristobal León & Joaquín Cociña in their first fiction feature film co-written with Alejandra Moffat and featuring a cast of just two voices, Amalia Kassai as Maria and Rainer Krause as the Wolf.(5 / 5)
Photos are the property of Diluvio and Globo Rojo Films