366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.


FEATURING: Aisling Franciosi, Caoilinn Springall, Tom York, Stella Gonet, Therica Wilson-Read

PLOT: Ella struggles to complete her famous stop-motion animator mother’s final work after the woman is hospitalized; she abandons that story and starts another when she meets a creepy little girl who invents a fairy tale about a mysterious man “no one wants to meet.”

Still from STOPMOTION (2023)

COMMENTS: The painstaking nature of stop-motion animation—move a puppet a fraction of a millimeter, snap a picture, repeat for an hour until you’ve animated a full second—means that the form is usually relegated to short films. Just ask or what it takes to animate a full-length feature without a million-dollar team of animators backing you. So it comes as little surprise that celebrated short film stop-animator Robert Morgan decided to craft his debut feature as a hybrid film, a mostly live-action story enveloping small snippets of his animated passion. The subject is, naturally, the making of a stop motion movie, and the focus is on the madness inherent in this most laborious and solitary of artistic pursuits.

The film begins in hybridized fashion, with protagonist Ella (a deranged-looking Franciosi) seen in the flicker of a multicolored party strobe—her facial expressions chopped up into stop-motiony frames. Ella is working on an animated feature about a cute fuzzy cyclops (who foresees his own death) for her ailing (and domineering) mother—the daughter supplies the hands, the mom the imagination. Mom, indeed, calls Ella “puppet” (not “poppet”). When Mom leaves the picture, though, Ella flounders, searching for inspiration, until the arrival of a brunette moppet who might be the spitting image of Ella at eleven. Nightmares and hallucinations ensue as Ella abandons the cyclops story and pursues a new one, with new materials and a growing unhealthy obsessiveness.

Morgan’s animations are obviously the highlight, and they disappoint only in their limited screen time. The girl morbidly encourages Ella to use meat, bone, and mortician’s wax to fashion new puppets, which look like the distressed, putrescent protagonists we’re familiar with from shorts like “Bobby Yeah.” The main puppet’s face is decorated with red blotches, like excema scratched raw, and the boogeyman is covered in bleeding sores and patchy hair. The sound design is oppressive, full of screeches, clanks, thumps, and heavy footsteps. A black, egglike blob and icky procreative imagery feature prominently in the second half. The animated segments, delivered via a fairy tale structure that requires increasingly dreadful visits over the course of three nights, scores a spooky vibe. The violent, gory finale highlights some squirmy visuals, but represents quite the tonal shift away from the dread-based horror of the earlier segments.

In his director’s statement Morgan describes Stopmotion as a “psychological piece in the vein of classic Lynch, or Cronenberg,” and the specific films he cites make it appear like he studied this site’s canon for inspiration: Naked Lunch, Barton Fink, Black Swan, Santa Sangre, Mulholland Drive, INLAND EMPIRE. All of that places the film firmly in our circle of interest. But as a psychological horror, Stopmotion delivers on horror, while coming up a bit short on the psychology. It’s about the madness of creativity, and traffics in concepts like self-doubt, the mystery of inspiration, Eros overcome by Thanatos, and obsession. But, powerful as these themes are, they ultimately don’t synergize in an enticing way. Stopmotion doesn’t add anything new to the portrait of the artist traumatized by their own work; there is no meaty psychological hook for Ella to dangle from. It’s admittedly style over substance, but the surplus of style makes up for a shortfall in substance. Morgan still has room to grow, and if he puts it all together someday, he’s shown the promise to create a masterpiece.


“It’s a disappointing path, more than a bit dimestore Freud, hardly managing to reveal Ella’s fracturing psyche to us in convincing terms, and instead succeeding only in having us assume most of what we’re watching is simply Ella’s confused imagination. In the process, though, you do get a tantalizing primer in how modern stop-motion animation works, and how Morgan’s own physical process musters his greasy weirdness out of everyday substances.”–Michael Atkinson, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

Where to watch Stopmotion

One thought on “CAPSULE: STOPMOTION (2023)”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *