Sunday, 16 September 2012


The presence of Tim Burton and Henry Selick loom large over this film. While not in an official capacity, the world of horror inflected stop motion animation is their hallowed turf. Anyone seen to be breaching this ground is bound to be labelled a sub-par intruder but the makers of ParaNorman have equalled, if not bettered, those by the sub-genre superstars.
Taking its cues from The Sixth Sense, ParaNorman concerns eleven-year-old shock haired Norman, who can converse with dead people. Cleverly that isn’t seen as a problem though – at least not for him. The problem lies in the eyes of others; from his concerned mother and appalled father to bullying contemporaries at school.
For a film that starts out with a flickery grindhouse homage and the image on a trodden-on brain, it’s no surprise that the film is uncompromising in its content for a film with this demographic, and rightly so (sample joke topics: homosexuality, goosing, tits and ass). It would be untenable and pointless to construct a film – animated or not – around the subject of the risen dead and not pay homage to genre hallmarks.
That’s not to say there isn't a moral backbone to this illicit children’s film. It is warmly nostalgic in its vision of warped Americana and the central tenet of accepting difference in others runs through it like fresh brains through a putrefying intestinal tract. There’s an infectious glee in the way it doesn’t hold back on showing gruesome sights, such as a corpse’s lolling tongue flapping onto our hero’s face.
The character design is positively grotesque – and that’s just in the living. Blotchy skin, puffy eyes, asymmetrical faces, wobbling bingo wings and monstrously protruding guts all feature heavily. The voice cast seem to completely inhabit their parts. Softly spoken Kodi Smit-McPhee is a beguiling lead as Norman, in stark contrast to his flustered parents voiced by Leslie Mann and an exasperated Jeff Garlin. Playing against type, Casey Affleck is completely unrecognisable as a lunk-headed Jock while Anna Kendrick flies in the face of her usually prissy screen persona as Norman’s callow, vapid sister. If anything, the characters are too stock but even that’s in keeping with much of the genre it riffs on.
While obviously dancing in the general area of parody, the film doesn’t stuff itself with references to other films. This is its own thing. It takes time to establish its own world, drawing from sources as varied as gory b-movies and its New England setting's history of puritanical witch trials. The influence of John Carpenter does make itself apparent in the score and a couple of sly nods to Halloween but never to the extent that it seems homage is more important than plot.
What will leave the most lasting impression are the stunning visuals. The model work and stop motion have a tactile charm but in coupling those with fantastically audacious camerawork and liberal application of CGI, it reaches new heights. The autumnal hues and ragged aesthetic give it a lived in feel that completely fits the plot and the characters that inhabit it. A scene of atmospheric turbulence in the skies above the town of Blithe Hollow is mind blowing in how well realised it is.
Of course it’s relatively bloodless and the undead of the film are rarely concerned with anything worse happening to them than losing a dangling limb. Of course when that limb is 300 years old and decaying, it’s all played for comic effect. There’s nothing too troubling – at least no more so than munching on a jelly brain sweet.
Pleasingly plot driven and without the unnecessary baggage that usually accompanies message focused animated films, it’s a flesh creeping delight. It might not have the innocent charm to guarantee its longevity but it’s a delightful, if slight, romp that doesn’t scale back on the visceral pleasure of watching a horror film.

No comments:

Post a Comment