Released in 2009, Coraline has become a Halloween staple for many.
The film is deeply unsettling and upon release left many people wondering how a brightly coloured animated kids film left a pit in their stomachs.
When a young girl moves into a new house, she finds a small door that leads her to another world – this premise has all the makings of a typical family-friendly adventure.
But this eerie stop motion animation follows in Tim Burton’s footsteps by tricking us with a darkly compelling horror. Coraline should be an easy feel-good film. Here’s exactly why it isn’t.
“Cute as a button”
The film puts a more sinister twist on this classic catchphrase. Instead an endearing parent talking about their child, it is used by a man made of pumpkin who is about to try and convince a young girl to sew buttons into her eyes. Refreshing take.
In some religions, buttons symbolize making choices and choosing one’s own destiny. Coraline flips this idea on its head.
The buttons are the other mother’s (or Beldam’s) way of controlling a situation, her ever-seeing lens into Coraline’s miserable life.
Replacing the eyes, commonly referred to as the window to the soul, with buttons? It is her way of making sure she misses nothing, shaping Coraline’s boring grey life into one she can manipulate and control herself.
When it is first presented to Coraline, she panics. Allowing the Beldam to sew buttons into her eyes will remove the choices from Coraline’s life completely and as she later learns, be the source of her untimely death.
Devil in the detail
The opening shot of the film is one in a downcast grey. A wide shot of the house her family has just moved into, ironically known as the Pink Palace, is devoid of colour, with grey rain clouds making up the majority of the background.
The movie stays like this, the only defining colours coming from Coraline herself with her blue hair and yellow rain jacket. However when she opens the door to the other world, she is met with a tunnel in vibrant blues and purples luring her to a world much more suited to her personality.
The other world is bright and appealing, keeping Coraline interested in what more she could discover. Her upstairs neighbour no longer trains rats, he runs a full circus of dancing mice.
The downstairs neighbours are more than former burlesque dancers – they are in their prime, putting on magnificent shows.
But as we get further in, things shift. The colours become almost too bright – the mice are actually rats and were controlling her upstairs neighbour the whole time and the opera singers are now intertwined with one another and unable to speak.
The movie ends with much more color. The residents of the Pink Palace are planting roses, everyone is dressed more colorfully and the sun is shining as opposed to the film’s earlier rain clouds.
While the dynamics have stayed fundamentally the same, there are signs of a brighter future. One without an evil witch looming in the background.
The film masterfully uses the small details and the comforting pretence of a child’s adventure into another world to lure you into a false sense of security, only to pull the carpet from under you and show you everything is not always as it seems.
Featured Image: Focus Features