In the past few years, stop-motion animation has achieved technical marvels previously thought impossible. The scale and smoothness of films like Kubo and the Two Strings or The Boxtrolls is something that could only exist today, given the technical marvels on display. Junk Head, an independent stop-motion feature from Takahide Hori, may not offer the technical prowess of its big-budget contemporaries, but what it lacks in shine it makes up for in ambition. This is a gritty, handmade little treasure of a movie that is not to be ignored.
The film takes place in a distant future where humanity is on its last genetic legs. We have modified our genes to the point where we have lost the ability to procreate, leading to a civilization made up of clones, androids and monstrosities. A scout with the hopes of finding lost genetic information is sent down to an underground world where the last clones live in squalor. It is a dire, desperate world where danger lurks around every corner. The characters are drawn very simplistically, but this is to the film’s benefit seeing as it’s illustrating a world which is past the point where love or friendship have any consequence. The designs recall the bio-mechanical creatures of H.R. Giger filtered through the handcrafted look of Wallace and Gromit. The world is a gruesome thing of beauty and a triumph of creativity over clear budgetary constraints.
Much of Junk Head plays as a silent film. There is some subtitled dialogue, but the scenes could play almost as well without it. The storytelling here is all visual, seeing as the characters must grapple with the world at every turn. It’s a future where survival is only guaranteed through action. However, the film does take the time to slow down and revel in the details of the scenery. Many scenes are bookended by the reveal of a new creature, each with its own ecosystem and place in the food chain.
All of this design philosophy draws the viewer further inward towards the heart of the journey. Despite the nihilism of the world, the movie never feels depressing. Instead, it highlights how even as humanity reaches its end, life always finds a way to evolve with Earth’s ever-changing landscape. Life may become unlivable for humanity as we know it, but life will persist regardless. Junk Head fits right into the pantheon of great post-apocalyptic cinema with soulful execution.