Sunday, October 17, 2021

LA CASA LOBO (aka THE WOLF HOUSE) (2018) Movie Review

Scare-A-Thon Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 15
Total First Time Views: 10
Amount raised for ALBANY PARK THEATER PROJECT: $789.75

La Casa Lobo (2018)
d. Joaquín Cociña / Cristóbal León (Chile/Germany) (74 min) (1st viewing)

A “brilliant nightmare” painstakingly captured through stop-motion animation, The Wolf House acts as social commentary, history lesson, and a master class in unconventional storytelling. Virtually nothing I can tell you in this review can prepare you for what is a supremely unique viewing experience, which is a good thing since I can’t imagine effectively communicating the haunting and disquieting mood spun by co-directors Cocina and Leon.

A little historical context will undoubtedly deepen one’s appreciation for the project (which we'll get to in a second), especially since the structure of “a film within a film” already puts us at a distance. The opening sets us up supposedly watching a recovered piece of propaganda cinema, where German emigrants to Chile set up The Colony, an attempt a simpler way of life, connected to the land. Through this supposedly lost and restored celluloid, we are told the story of Maria, a young and rebellious child who flees into the woods after letting two pigs escape from their pen, hoping to avoid punishment and/or further restrictions. She takes refuge from “the wolf” by hiding in a deserted cottage, where she stays for an indefinite amount of time, free but not free to leave.

It is here that the filmmakers begin to weave their hypnotic spell, with figures and surroundings blending and shifting constantly, such that nothing ever remains static and the contents of the entire frame ever in flux. Very few films have captured the sense of a nightmare this effectively, where the internal rules of physics and logic are as fluid as the watercolors used therein. Nothing connects, nothing makes “sense,” and yet since this world is so fully realized, we come to accept the “non-sense” and make a story of it.

When Maria finds two pigs in the house, she invites them to change their hooves to hands, then becoming human altogether. Thus, a makeshift family is created (by will or magic), then destroyed (by fire), then healed (by honey, the Colony’s main export), before turning on itself in a literal and metaphorical act of cannibalism.

Here is where the historical context comes in handy, when one learns (thank you, Internet) that a certain German fugitive accused of child molestation, Paul Schäfer, fled to South America and founded “Dignity Colony” in 1961, among whose residents eventually include Joseph Mengele and other Nazi war criminals. During Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorial rule of Chile, Schäfer supposedly tortured and murdered dissidents, all the while indulging in sexual trafficking and abuse of minors. How’s that for a fairy tale’s sinister underbelly? None of these actions are made explicit onscreen, yet Cocina and Leon are clearly making a statement about their homeland’s complicity in these crimes, and damning it using the most innocuous means and most surreal imagery.

This is not a conventional horror film (nor a conventional film, period), and it might be easier to stand at a distance and appreciate rather than emotionally invest. Nevertheless, it’s an astonishing achievement; one whose textures and layers, physical and emotional, are impossible to fully absorb in a single viewing.

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