Stopmotion (2023) explained: What does Ella's film actually indicate?

It seems like Stopmotion is an exploration of one woman's traumatic childhood.
STOPMOTION – Still 3 - Courtesy IFC
STOPMOTION – Still 3 - Courtesy IFC /

Stopmotion is a disturbing new psychological horror film from director Robert Morgan, starring Aisling Franciosi in the lead role of Ella. The film follows an animator who goes to extremes to execute her vision, slowly declining mentally throughout the movie as she pushes herself further and further to complete her project. Spoilers ahead for Stopmotion.

By the film's end, Ella has spiraled completely, landing herself in the hospital and even murdering two people. She even goes so far as to rip open an injury in her leg and pull out a piece of herself to use in her artwork, a decision she makes after already using raw meat and an animal carcass to create her stop-motion creations. The further she gets into the filmmaking process, the more she unravels.

Based on my interpretation of the film, Stopmotion seems to be about Ella's desperate journey to reclaim her agency and come to terms with the trauma that she faced as a child.

We know that the little girl Ella sees throughout the movie is a version of herself, heavily implied to be her younger self or a manifestation of her dark impulses.

Ella grew up with an abusive, overbearing mother. Domineering and controlling, she forced Ella to confine to her specific ideals and strangled her creativity by coercing Ella into crafting her ideas for their films.

But there is an unspoken third party here, a potential male figure in Ella's life who we don't see, hence the "Ash Man." As horrible as her mother was to her, her death is the tipping point for Ella. Ella's mom was like an anchor, keeping Ella from ever having to think about anything. Her mom "pulled her strings" and told her exactly what to do at all times, meaning Ella never had to think back on repressed memories.

With her mother out of the picture, it all comes flooding back, taking on the shape of her younger self and manifesting as the little girl we see in the film. To me, Ella appeared to be trying to understand and cope with the traumas she suffered as a child through the creation of her stop-motion movie.

I got the vibe that Ella was not only abused by her mother but potentially by her father, or at least a man her mom might have been seeing. Ella's little girl self might be the exact age Ella was when the abuse happened, thus stunting her development and keeping her, mentally, at that age.

The girl mentions multiple times throughout the film that the story has a strict script to follow, and she gets angry whenever Ella seems to be going off-script. "That's not how it happened." The moments when the Ash Man, or at least Ella's hallucination of him, hunts her in real life show him trying to touch her, caressing her face, and tracking her down.

Whenever he gets close enough to touch Ella, she either shrinks (literally) or recoils from his touch—Hallmark signs of abuse. The way the film sets up this story of a girl being hunted through the woods by a terrifying man all seems to indicate some genuine trauma that Ella experienced.

STOPMOTION – Still 4 /

Unfortunately for Ella, she's spent her entire life living with a cruel mother. Maybe her mom didn't even know it was happening, but she didn't exactly foster the type of environment where Ella could have told her what was happening.

There's a moment when Ella hallucinates herself as a stop-motion figure, and her wax self gets stuck in a hole in the wall that leads into a box-like room entirely covered in satiny gold ruffles. In the final seconds of the movie, when Ella is alone and dying, she crawls into a coffin-like box with an identical gold satin lining.

I might be making a total stretch here, but the color and usage in the film kind of reminded me of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story The Yellow Wallpaper, which also features a woman's decline into psychosis. Ella literally ends the movie climbing into a box lined with yellow, seemingly cementing her final foray into insanity as she completely loses her grip on reality.

I'm not saying my version is the correct one, I don't think that's the purpose of a movie like this one, which leaves everything up to interpretation for the viewer. But I could not shake the feeling that the film conveyed quite a bit about Ella's past through the creation of the Ash Man.

Stopmotion is now streaming on Shudder.

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