Being a child is frightening. The world is always new filled with wonders and dangers, and it seems just when you know your place in it things go awry. Fear of what would be banalities of adult existence or mundane confusions can spark deep anxiety.
So, the child’s adventure is a great locus for the horror film. It’s easy to write this off because, as adults, we no longer recognize or we belittle the child self. This kind of horror is premised on loss of control and the protagonist finally seizing control in the process growing up. There is wonder, playfulness, dread, and panic in these sorts of movies creating a kind of dark whimsy.
Based on a Neil Gaiman novel, Coraline is a wonderfully inventive stop-motion film from writer/director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach) about an unsatisfied tween girl who discovers an alternate world in her new home. This new world is populated by button-eyed dopplegangers of her family and friends. At first, this world is enticing and fun for Coraline as opposed to her actual reality where is constantly fighting with her mother, feeling her father is too distant, and nearly always at odds with her one would-be friend.
However, it becomes clear Coraline is being slowly ensnared by a malevolent entity, the Beldam. In attempting to get Coraline to stay in her alternate world, the Beldam or Other Mother wants to sew buttons onto Coraline’s eyes. The girl flees but soon realizes she can’t easily escape. She encounters the spirits of past children who were taken by the Other Mother and killed. These spirits task Coraline with saving them by finding their eyes so they can be at peace. Then, through some magic, Coraline’s parents are stolen away by the Beldam. She must return to not only aid the child spirits and save her parents but to stop the Beldam for good.
What I enjoy the most about this film is how subtle the stop-motion animation was able to convey subtlety of emotion. The voice acting by Dakota Fanning in the title role, Robert Bailey Wybie, and the fun comedy duo of French and Saunders as the eccentric spinsters who love in Caroline’s home is superb. Selick is imaginative and charming while conveying childhood panic as well as a youthful determination.
A neo-fairytale that is perhaps the perfect child’s Halloween movie.