SPOILER ALERT: This review contains plot elements
Most people have a TV show or a movie that scared the lights out of them as a kid.
For me, it’s the 2009 movie, Coraline.
Thoughts as a kid …
The first time I watched it was at a sleepover with a bunch of fellow 10-year-olds. The group environment gave me some fake confidence that I’d be fine watching it.
But that feeling didn’t last long as I spent the next 90 minutes distracted by anything else than what was on the screen, refusing to pay full attention to it.
That proved to be the right idea because I was horrified as the credits rolled on what would have to be the scariest movie I’d ever seen.
Officially it’s rated PG and categorised as a kid’s film, but without a doubt Coraline qualifies as a horror film.
Originally based on a book, the plot follows a young girl, Coraline Jones, as her family moves into an old mansion and she discovers a door to an alternate universe. Here she meets her button-eyed “other mother” and finds a perfect life full of colour and adventure. This soon becomes too good to be true as she fights to escape to her real life.
You can’t even make it out of the opening credits before the creepy feeling sinks in, as a spidery, metal hand starts sewing open a stuffed rag doll.
This is accompanied by some background music that is disguised as being upbeat but is ultimately just hiding the eeriness that sets you on edge.
The director, Henry Selick, achieved this feeling by getting a children’s choir to sing in a nonsense language so you can never really decipher what they’re saying.
Horror film elements
The horror film similarities continue within the set and character design.
First, the old mansion Coraline moves into looks like it could be the sibling of the houses from The Conjuring or Beetlejuice. It looks like the type of place you could spend weeks living in, but you’d never discover every room even if you tried.
The muted colour palette of Coraline’s real world is reminiscent of The Ring or Saw.
Once the scene is set to put you on edge, the spooky characters are the final things that add to the weirdness.
Most other children’s films don’t involve such sleezy and odd-looking characters. Their peculiar and misshapen features just don’t sit right in your mind as you try to decide whether they are to be trusted or not.
And then when Coraline meets her “other neighbours” they become even more gross and terrifying as she tries to escape that world. To keep you even further on edge there are also bugs, mice and bats incorporated in that just make your skin crawl.
This movie really gives you no chance to relax.
For all those reasons, I avoided this movie for the next 10 years and refused to watch it again. I knew I didn’t like it, and nothing was changing my mind.
Then one day, while wondering what to watch, I decided to give it another go.
And what a great rewatch it ended up being! Despite the years of avoidance and refusal, I ended up with a whole new appreciation for the movie!
Thoughts as an adult …
The blend of stop motion and animation in this film is truly one of a kind!
Character designers used a mix of 3D printing, puppets and computer editing to seamlessly bring the characters to life across almost 150 different sets.
The attention to detail continues as they shot every frame with two cameras placed slightly apart in order to show the film in 3D.
This creative and clever set design keeps you engaged for the entire duration and helps to contrast the two worlds with each other.
Fearless female lead
Rewatching this film at an older age also made me realise how much of a fearless and strong female character Coraline is.
She isn’t afraid to squash bugs with her bare hands or go off running into the woods on her first day at the new house. She crawls headfirst into the “other world” to save her friends and family, even if it means facing the evil antagonist straight on.
Her intelligent and feisty nature make her the perfect lead character in amongst the spookiness of the plot and her fellow characters.
Despite my newfound love for the film, I’ve found that other people are still wrapped up in hesitancy to watch it too. I still have had no luck trying to convince my 22-year-old friends to try and give it a go.
I still believe that it’s a borderline horror film, but Coraline is deserving of your time for its wonderfully strange and brave atmosphere.
Photos by Grace Buckmaster