A childless couple finds a tree root resembling a baby. The wife pampers it, treats it as real, much to the husband’s dismay.
Suddenly, though, the root actually comes to life. Soon, it develops a hunger for flesh.
That’s the basic premise of Jan Svankmajer’s horror comedy/fantasy drama/coming of age story/fable. The plot is based on a folktale, and it goes approximately where you expect it to.
Where it comes to life is in Svankmajer’s incredible eye for texture, his grotesque stop motion creations, and his general inventiveness. Little Otik switches genres on the fly, often jarringly, elevating it’s predictable story by keeping its audience constantly on edge. The early scenes of the baby Otik eating are made scarier by their low-tech stop motion, and Svankmajer manages to turn a subplot about a paedophile into casual comedy.
Heightening the uncanny are Svankmajer’s fascinations with texture and mouths. He cuts to abrupt close ups of fingers, of wood, of fabric, and, of course, of food. And of people eating food. And of them talking. Lips moving, reciting folktales, old stories. Svankmajer plays with the audience, using the camera to emphasise both the idea of storytelling and the reality of detail. He blurs the line between the fable and the true story, suggesting that they come out of one another, a cycle of real horror feeding into moral teachings feeding into self prophecies feeding into real horror.
The amount of craft going on here is stunning, especially in service of such a playfully simple story of death byindulgence.
The only thing holding Little Otik back is its length. It’s about 30 minutes too long, and that drag really shows in the extended first act. A trimmed version of this is an amazing film. As it stands, it’s a great one. Death by indulgence, indeed.