Produced by Johanna Teichmann, Martin Choroba
Written by Johanna Stuttmann
Directed by Mara Eibl-Eibesfeldt
Starring Ben Litwinschuh, Lutz Simon Eilert,
Helena Pieske, Ludwig Trepte, Sylvie Testud,
Alexandra Finder, Matthias Koeberlin
At the age of twelve most children’s biggest concern is which video game they’re going to beat. It’s not figuring out how to take care of their siblings.
Unfortunately for Jonas, this is now his life.
After his mother’s bout with mental illness results in her leaving them behind for the weekend to go to the “sunny valley” to deal with her demons.
With their father dead, Jonas is now the parental figure to his younger brother and sister.
However, when a weekend turns into something much longer, Jonas now has to figure out life as they began to drift into their own fantastical world.
Mara Eibl-Eibesfeldt’s The Spiderwebhouse is a depressing story about abandonment and mental illness wrapped in the cleverness of a fairytale. While the movie is a missed opportunity to explore the affects of depression, it is visual fest about childhood devotion, love and the power of the imagination. Jonas, who often plays caretaker to his mother during her bouts of depression is able to switch on his parental instincts within seconds. However, as days turn into months, the children who are afraid to step outside, turn a horrifying environment of decay into a haunting castle where spiders and other creepy creatures are their friends.
Each frame feels like a screenshot from a Hans Christensen novel with one scene more beautiful than the next. The German dialogue seems to drift away as the visuals became even more stunning.
Jonas is well equipped in his new role; daily tasks of taking care of the billy, taking out the garbage and household chores are done with masterful precision (for a 12-year old) as he retains order with his siblings.
As the story progresses the film becomes more spellbounding and while these children are fending for themselves, you become wary of anyone discovering their secret and reporting them to the authorities. There’s a majestic quality to their chemistry that feels authentic, and emotional. Ben Litwinschuh, Lutz Simon Eilert and Helena Pieske are dynamic and should easily go on to have successful careers.
Cinematographer Jürgen Jürges, works his transformative magic as well-stocked cabinets become full of cobwebs and desolation. With the weight of the household on his shoulders, Jonas begins to exhibit small cracks of transforming into his mother as the camera swirls around him to show a battered sunken house swallowing him whole.
Unfortunately, The Spiderwebhouse is not prefect. Filled with a multitude of plot holes, there’s too many question left unanswered to go unnoticed. Whether this is intentional as to not make the story too sad for the audience, the film suffers from this transgression and isn’t fair to the audience that invested their time with this film.
While there are glaring mistakes, the film is still Mara Eibl-Eibesfeldt’s surprisingly good debut. Filled with talented children, a creative cinematographer and a well executed script, The Spiderwebhouse is an impressive start to hopefully a very long career.
The Spiderwebhouse is playing in limited release and is available On Demand.