I’ve been wanting to watch this film in order to review it for quit some time. The thing is, every time I mentioned it to friends they were adamant that Coraline isn’t a horror film. Which it is, it very much is. Had I known it was based on a Neil Gaiman novel of the same name I would have watched and reviewed this film far sooner. Like over a year ago sooner. Admittedly I had seen small sections of Coraline over the years, catching bits on pieces while it was on at a friend’s house, walking through stores as it played on the display or while jumping channel surfing. But this exposure totaled less than thirty minutes of the film’s hundred minute run time.
Coraline opens with doll of a girl being created before being tossed off into.. a void. The film then transitions to Coraline (Dakota Fanning) moving to a new home in Ashland, Oregon as her parents Mel (Teri Hatcher) and Charlie (John Hodgman) have gotten new jobs writing about gardening. Something that neither of them do. Coraline is unhappy as she misses her new home and her parents largely ignores her as they are busy with their work. While exploring around her new home The Pink Palace Apartments, she meets a local boy named Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.), the two get off to a rough start as far as friendships go. Ending with Wybie informing Coraline the stick she’s using as a diving rod is Poison Oak. That night as she nurses her itchy hands her parents once again largely ignore her, having her do busy work since it’s raining like counting the doors and windows. Wybie visits Coraline again and gives her the doll from the opening sequence as a gift, having gotten it from his grandmother after noticing it looked like her. Later, while exploring the house and counting the windows and doors out of boredom, Corline finds a small locked door. She bothers her mother until Mel finds the key in a spare drawer and unlocks the door. Which leads nowhere as opens straight into a brick wall. That night Coraline wakes up to mouse and follows it to the door where is scurries under. This time when she opens the door it leads another world with “better” versions of both her parents and Wybie. Though these have Buttons for eyes. After being fed and entertained, Coraline falls asleep only to wake back in the real world. Of course, neither parents believes her and send her off to meet the neighbors. She starts with Mr. Sergei Alexander Bobbinsky (Ian McShane), who is cautious of her as he thinks she’s trying to get a peek at his mouse circus which is not yet ready. That night she visits the strange world again, this time meeting another Bobbinsky with button eyes and sees his mouse circus. The next day she meets her other neighbors a pair of eccentric sisters, Miss Spink (Jennifer Saunders) and Miss Miriam Forcible (Dawn French), both of whom are former actresses. Once again that night she visits the other world and this time she meets the better versions of the sisters, again with button eyes. But Coraline begins to suspect that maybe everything in this world isn’t as perfect as it seems…
I really liked this film as it actually full of solid horror. The only thing I think that kept those I know from thinking it was such is the ending, that as Coraline is a children’s film is happy. Along with the lack of gore and jump scares as Coraline’s horror pulls more from the sense of innate wrongness than body horror which the genre is normally associated with.
What I loved most the Stop-Motion Animation which is simply outstanding. I will admit to bias as I’m a huge fan of Stop-Motion and feel it should be used more often. The look of feel adds immensely to the atmosphere of the film. Coraline could have been done live action, but would have seriously lost much of its charm if it had gone that route.
I also love the film’s pacing. As Coraline meets new characters, we quickly get to see Coralines better versions. Which adds an amazing amount of depth to characters and lets us look as the same characters under a new light. This allows the film to build slowly and to take its time building the tension.
My only issue with the film is there’s no lingering dread left after the films conclusion. The film is given a happy ending with good winning over evil. I would have loved to see something that showed that while temporarily defeated, Bedlam isn’t gone for good. Which I guess could be there since he final shot after the credits is Bedlam making a mouse. But, I find that train of thought unsatisfactory.
Final thoughts, if you have yet to see Coraline I couldn’t recommend it more. Coraline has more horror elements in it as a PG film than any of the PG-13’s I’ve reviewed to date. It manages to bring the genre to children without being violent, gory or offensive. An for that I couldn’t love it more. 10/10