A little nightmare fuel, like a treat

Coraline the season is here.
Photo: Focus features

Each week for the foreseeable future, Vulture will select a movie to watch as part of our Friday night movie club. This week’s pick – the second in a special horror month-long celebration – comes from writer Rebecca Alter, who will begin her screening of Coraline Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. ET. Head for the vultures Twitter to see his live commentary and watch next week’s movie here.

What about horror movies and mothers? There are Mom !, Mom, Mom, and Good night mom. There are The Babadook and Hereditary and Rosemary’s baby. There are Dear Mum, which is absolutely a horror movie. And there is Coralin, Henry Selick’s 2009 stop-motion film about a brave heroine named Coraline Jones who must choose between her mundane everyday life and a sophisticated parallel world handcrafted just for her by the mysterious Other Mother.

Coraline is based on a children’s short story by fantasy author Neil Gaiman, who wrote the book over a decade for his daughters based on their own imagined stories and fears. The story incorporates a number of childhood fixations: the terror of the locked little door in the closet or attic; the discomfort of visiting a fragrant older neighbor whose house is strange and the candy is disgusting; whether the cat can understand you; the general suspicion that people and things are not what they seem and that your anxieties are not being heard or understood. But it also has a lot of adult horror elements in it: doppelgängers, haunted houses, ancient evil, weird faces, spooky Victorian ghost children. There’s a reason Gaiman insists that the story (in book, movie, and even opera form) scares adults more than kids: for kids it’s an adventure in a landscape. relatable emotional. For adults, there is cosmic evil here, suggesting identity theft, predatory parenthood, and generational trauma. The Other Mother sewing new dolls together to set her infamous parental trap is essentially Toni Collette who builds tiny dollhouses, unable to protect her children from satanic fates coming from within the family tree. “I AM YOUR MOTHER!”

Gaiman is also totally wrong, however, because I read the book in fourth grade and it scared me. We had a mission where we had to read 12 books in 12 different genres, and one of those genres was “horror”, and everyone went cowardly and read Goose bumps, corn my just mom had to bring home that complete nightmare piece of fuel. The “eye pimples” thing sounds familiar and old like something out of a popular Grimm Brothers tale, but also totally new in its ability to blink in my head when I was trying to fall asleep. The movie came out when I was in ninth grade, which was a lifetime later, but even then, it was probably one of the scariest things I’d seen in a theater. Coraline was released nine months before Avatar and stood out at the time for Selick’s creative and engaging use of RealD 3D. Selick was one of the first to use the technology in its theatrical re-release The nightmare before Christmas back in 2006 (rightly so, one of the other early RealD users was perhaps the only children’s movie creepier than Coralin: years 2006 Monster house). Maybe we ran out of 3D over the next decade, but I still remember my first sigh when Coraline first opens the door and the tunnel leading to the Other Mother’s house. ‘extends to infinity. Or when Wybie and Coraline drop their hands in the well. The effects seemed material and substantial, not only because they had a narrative justification (they demarcated one world and the Other), but also because the material being shot was not computer generated. It was real. Knitwear and tangible fabrics captured in stop-motion photography. This whole film seems uncomfortably close, as if it is breaking some kind of contract or division between universes, between screen and viewer.

Review Coraline, I thought about all the aforementioned horrors regarding daughters and mothers, as well as The brilliant (keep an eye out for Easter eggs) and other animated quirks like The Belleville triplets. But I also thought of Coralinethe spiritual half-sister of, Upside down. Both films follow a girl, an 11 or 12 year old only girl, who moves to an unfamiliar new home on the West Coast and has to deal with the confusion, loneliness and anger of it, their frustrations have only fought. ‘exacerbated by parents too busy with their work to give them the attention and validation they need. Both films use the metaphor to describe the inner lives of children at this age of transition, where imagination and curiosity are plagued by angst. But where Upside down is aesthetically too smooth, too shiny, Coraline is rich and woven, confusing and messy, histrionically creepy and subversively strange. It was the first solo effort of LAIKA, the film that preceded works like Paranormand and Kubo and the two strings, and that remains an argument as to why we need a LAIKA to balance the Pixars and Dreamworks and Illuminations. And as much as Coraline talks about childhood, it is also about the art of animated film itself. The Other Mother is a director at heart, weaving together an illusory fantasy world and filling it with sand and fluff to draw us in. May be Coraline also talks about the horror of this creativity and responsibility, and that’s what we’re supposed to feel. Either way, it’s scary. And until my eyes are sewn with buttons, I’ll be back to look at him.

Coraline is available to stream on Hulu or Prime Video with a Starz subscription and to rent on YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, and iTunes.

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