Porcelain Stare Movie Review
Written by Kalem Klub
Written and directed by Robin Rippmann
2017, 6 minutes, Not Rated
It's human nature to be equal parts fascinated and in fear of dolls, which occupy that weird space between the lifelike and the inanimate. There's a lot of both in Robin Rippmann's Porcelain Stare, a Swiss production. In it, a girl spends teatime with an eccentric elderly woman, oblivious to the true malevolent nature of the many dolls on display when she's later left to explore the house by herself.
Rippmann, who pulls double duty as writer and director, smartly uses the "show, don't tell" rule to great effect. No one speaks in this short film, but I'd argue that they didn't need to. The leads expertly carry Porcelain Stare by expression alone. Veronika Herren steals the scenes she's in with the slightest facial inflection; her unsettling stares and smiles are perfectly juxtaposed to Mia Miljko's childlike curiosity.
The lack of dialogue lends the film a tense atmosphere more than easy answers, inviting the audience to suss it out for themselves using visuals cues. The silence between the characters allows you to drink in the little details in the house. It feels massive but claustrophobic at the same time, dimly-lit and stocked with the kind of tchotchke that time forgot you'd expect grandmothers to collect: antique furniture, dusty books, faded photos, and dolls—all of which anchor the house in history. This is a house with stories and secrets, but most of it is left to us to speculate on. Exposition, while satisfying, may have only bogged down the pacing, considering the brief runtime.
I'd say Porcelain Stare counts as a slow burn—as slow as can be for a film only over four minutes long, anyway—with no in-your-face jumpscares save for the big reveal at the end. Its premise may hinge on the creepy doll narrative, but the meat of the film is built around that uneasy feeling of being watched. As the title suggests, the omnipresent dolls are more than decor. They appear as the house's real inhabitants, with as much as claim over the premises as their flesh-and-blood caretaker. A telling scene shows them sitting squarely in between Miljko and Herren on the couch—these are characters in their own right. To see them everywhere gives us a sense that the girl isn't quite alone, even after the old woman suddenly vanishes around a corner. Rippmann's Porcelain Stare takes its time to deliver a dread-filled experience and leaves you wanting more.