This review was written for Animations Online
Spiralling alcoholism, game hunting, neglect and gardening are the themes that ebb and flow through ‘Consuming Spirits’, a feature-length animation shot frame by frame on 16mm. Director Chris Sullivan’s epic project is advertised as being near 15 years in the making, something that weighs on the viewer’s mind as the film is drawn out over two and a quarter hours. It makes sense on the Manipulate Festival’s programme but does demand a lot from its audience.
The film – framed as a “parable in five parts” – has been designed to discomfort. The story is an odd one of physically and emotionally unattractive characters, whose lives are increasingly sinister. The main protagonists – a herbalist radio host, a frustrated newspaper woman, a disturbed nun, an Irish musician, a man in a deer suit and a heavily self-tattooed teenager – are all gradually linked together, in a complicated family tragedy of faithlessness and mental illness. A local radio station and newspaper (‘The Daily Suggester’) help create the links.
‘Consuming Spirits’ features a combination of stop motion techniques. The majority of the film is played out using two dimensional, hinged paper puppets, but also features lots of sketchy grayscale pencil drawn animation and 3D model based work, using toy cars and cardboard box houses. It also brings old photographs to life, giving voices to anonymous characters frozen in time. Everything is hand crafted, rather than computer generated. It has an appealing homemade quality that is never amateurish.
The aesthetic is an intentionally ugly one, with painfully honest close ups of ravaged human faces and sagging bodies. The puppets’ paper eyes have incredible life, and are often bloodshot and rolling. The action mainly takes place at dusk or night, and it’s as though the camera has a gloom filter on it or one that creates a drunken, teetering haze. ‘Consuming Spirits’ creates a powerful and penetrating atmosphere using the simplest of materials. It’s an impressive animated achievement, but one spoiled by the film’s length. Two hours in and counting, it starts to feel self-indulgent.