Director: Robert Morgan
Writers: Robert Morgan and Robin King
Starring: Aisling Franciosi, Stella Gonet, Caoilinn Springall
Distributor: IFC Midnight/Shudder

One of the best things a film can do is surprise you. When a film surprises you after you think you know where it’s going, that’s when it becomes an extremely satisfying experience. Especially when you watch horror films. So many go safe predictable routes that it can be shocking when one doesn’t. Stopmotion, the first live action film from animator Robert Morgan, does that. The first hour lulls you into familiarity before the last thirty minutes violently wake you.

For most of Stopmotion, the film seems like similar nightmare stories of making art. Animator Ella Blake, played by Aisling Franciosi (The Nightingale, The Last Voyage of the Demeter), aids her mother (Stella Gonet, El Conde, The Crown) in the creation of stop motion films. Her mother is a legend in the medium but arthritis now forces her to direct Ella to finish her latest film. Anna never looks happy or fulfilled working on this project for her mother. The one time her mother asks for new ideas, Ella has none for her. 

After her mother becomes incapacitated, Ella moves into an apartment to finish the film. She meets a young girl who inspires her to start a new project. She tells Ella a story of a young woman chased by a figure called the Ashman. Soon the demands from the young woman become more exact and more sinister as it progresses.

So much of the early scenes of Stopmotion come across as uninspired. It becomes clear early into the film that there’s something deeply wrong with Ella. Morgan and his co-writer Robin King tread familiar ground, such as lack of sleep and feelings of isolation in Ella’s descent into madness. There are so few interactions between Ella and her mother that her resentment of her comes across as cliché than deeply felt. When the young girl, played to creepy excellence by Caoilinn Springall, shows up and only interacts with Ella, you know what role she’s there to play. 

To the film and the filmmakers’ benefit, Franciosi never overplays her part. Her performance throughout the movie isn’t one of nervous tics or overacting. This is a woman exhausted by her commitments to her mother and the commitments that she puts herself through. Her Ella is someone that is merely a puppet for other people’s interest. Franciosi never plays her as anything other than hallowed out.

At least Morgan as a director never makes the film look boring. As a director of stop motion shorts (you can watch several on his YouTube channel), he has insight into the meticulous and exacting animating of this process. He never films these scenes as a joyous process. It’s always a  tedious one. Easily one that can drive one to madness.

The animated sequences in Stopmotion are suitably nightmarish. For anyone who has seen Morgan’s shorts such as Bobby Yeah, this should be no surprise. The puppets used in Ella’s film are fleshy and morbid looking. There’s nothing comforting in the sets with its chaotic growth of the forest and cardboard house that looks like Ella’s apartment. For a short reflecting the interior life of it’s creator, Morgan and his team of animators  

But his skill as an animation director extends to the look of the film. The apartment Ella lives in looks like Isabella Rosselli’s apartment in Blue Velvet. Its dark reds can only unease the audience. The only places in the film look comforting are when Ella leaves her home but of course, she never feels a part of those places.


It’s in the last act of the film where Morgan really ratchet ups the horror.  The nightmarish logic of the earlier scenes finally pays off. It is a brutal series of events that is earned by the 60 minutes than came before it. There’s one scene, and you’ll know it when you see it, that can rattle even the most hardened horror fan. It’s hard not having a visceral reaction to final act of this movie. 

For his live-action debut, Robert Morgan, as writer and director, makes Stopmotion one of the most visceral horror films in years. It’s a flawed debut but there’s immense promise in Morgan’s ability to create intense reactions from an audience. The early scenes both prepare viewers and allows them to be caught off guard by its final act. Morgan’s film serves as reminder that the act of creation is a violent thing.

Stopmotion is currently playing in theaters. It will stream on Shudder starting May 31.