Featuring the Voices of Anaïs Demoustier, Jérémie Elkaïm, Philippe Laudenbach
Written by Sébastien Laudenbach
Directed by Sébastien Laudenbach
I was excited when first offered the opportunity to review what was described as “a dark animated film” with the creepy title The Girl Without Hands. Moments after starting the screener, however, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. It wasn’t brutal imagery or arresting imagery that immediately gave me pause—it was the opposite.
The Girl Without Hands is like a living watercolor painted by a 19th Century master minimalist. Simple, 2-dimensional layers are overlapped to create motion and a larger sense of space, but the wide brushstrokes, primary colors, and fluttering movements all remain disappointingly basic. In an era of computer-assisted illustrations and collaborative teams of animators, The Girl Without Hands will be off-putting to fans of anime and high concept visuals. And though the narrative contains classic fairy tale tropes, even kids will most like find themselves averse to the aesthetic. While beautiful, it had little to offer today’s horror audiences.
Or so it seems!
Like many slow-burn genre offerings, The Girl Without Hands requires patience and commitment. Those willing to accept the challenge will likely become engrossed in a story of devilish bargains, demonic intrusions, bodily dismemberment, sex, and heart-wrenching tragedy. If I’m an example, The Girl Without Hands deserves praise for using a somewhat difficult, non-commercial presentation that nonetheless lassos in viewers who might not give it a second thought if they stumbled past it while channel surfing. By the film’s conclusion, I was rapt, deeply invested in the plight of the protagonist, a young maiden voiced by Anaïs Demoustier.
The animation isn’t the only aspect of The Girl Without Hands that’s basic; the soundscape is sparse, dialog is limited, and natural sounds like water and wind are more abundant than voices. It’s a testament to the old adage “more is less”, a reminder that too much stimulation can be a distraction. With such little adornment and long stretches of silence, there’s literally nothing to focus on besides the story. Whether this was the filmmaker’s intention or an organic effect, the story feels both familiar and unique, chilling and comforting—a viewing experience that invites immersion.
The Girl Without Hands might be unknown to Western moviegoers, but it’s one of the fairy tales assembled by The Brothers Grimm in the 1800s. Like many of their so-called children’s stories of that era, this one isn’t a candidate for a Disney adaptation. Adult fairy tales have emerged as a profitable trend in entertainment, as proven by the works of Guillermo del Toro, 2007’s Sleepy Hollow, and last year’s A Monster Calls. While technically, The Girl Without Hands can count itself a peer to these film, the unconventional presentation will make it a difficult pill to swallow, as horror/fantasy is usually exemplified by arresting visuals.
Sébastien Laudenbach isn’t just the director of The Girl Without Hands, he’s the animator, making the film an extremely personal artistic expression. Though he’s an award-winning short film producer, this marks his first feature film. Since anyone who’s been involved in movie-making can attest to the herculean effort any project requires, Laudenbach deserves praise for bringing this project to fruition; his commitment shows in the impactful, captivating yarn he spins.
It’s too bad this review comes just days after the conclusion of Women in Horror Month, as the film’s protagonist is a neo-feminist hero, a final girl who doesn’t wait for danger to get the upper hand, making The Girl Without Hands an appropriate movie to highlight. But just as we shouldn’t need an arbitrary month to celebrate the contribution of women in our beloved genre, there isn’t a specific season for enjoying this unique (if challenging) anomaly.
Fans of abstract and experimental storytelling should need little encouragement, while those with a penchant towards engrossing, emotionally devastating yet triumphant storytelling may also find themselves intrigued.
Is it a horror movie? No. That doesn’t mean certain horror fans won’t love it.
- virgo02 I really liked the movie when it came out and I still do. I just watched it the other day. I still can't believe they took away the sibling part of the movie. That too me made it more suspenseful. The...
- Nick Greeley Nice clickbait. It’s OLD news that H20 started as a passion project for her, but everything fell apart when Carpenter and Hill didn’t come back, and Moustapha Akkad refused to let the writers kill...
- Mackey Would be awesome if Amazon or Netflix could save "The Exorcist" too
- One-Eye I remember it as being one of the better post SCREAM slasher movies. I certainly haven't watched it since then.
- One-Eye I kind of dig how Osment is just like "Yeah, I'm fat and have a big, bushy beard. And that's how I'm gonna stay now..."
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