29 March 2013

Review: Stoker


Hollywood is running short on new talent. Imports have always been a large reason for the influx of rising stars and directors and this time the scouring net has landed upon the Pacific, specifically, South Korea and Park Chan-wook, its most celebrated director.

Stoker serves as the English-language debut of Park, most known for his unconventional works like Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance (better known as the revenge trilogy). His films don't make for comfortable viewing because they ask when violence can be justified and then shows you devastating effects it can take afterward.

That Park uses Shadow of a Doubt for the inspiration of Stoker shouldn't come as much of a surprise given the director has stated that Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo made him decide to become a filmmaker. The script written by Wentworth Miller focuses on a seemingly perfect family is submerged in a layer of grime and filth impending sense of doom. Uncle Charlie is also the name of the main antagonist in Hitchcock’s classic, and his entrance is fairly similar.

India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is shocked by the sudden loss of her father (Dermot Mulroney) in a tragic car accident. More intrusive is the unannounced arrival of Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), whom India has never met before. Eve (an icy Nicole Kidman) takes Charlie in without hesitation and the two grow close, closer than India is comfortable with. Charlie has a way with the women in the Stoker clan, India suspects that this disarming man has ulterior motives beneath his polished surface. The suspicion doesn't lead to horror though, she becomes entranced by him.

Charlie's arrival does not come without consequence however, the peace and tranquility of the household is upended by other accidents. Aunt Gwendolyn appears for dinner and then disappears without word for the rest of her visit, the most senior staff at the Stoker house leaves without saying anything. It doesn't end there either, India's new influence in her life gives her the courage to render tormentors a run around of her own.

Stoker isn't as violent or bloodletting as Chan-wook’s earlier films, but it also less dour, meshing stylishness with Gothic fairy tale. The film has an absolutely sumptuous look to it, inviting viewers to lean in when they should be backing away. The camera, the music, and all the pure technique all totaling into a visually mesmerizing piece. Park creates innovative images that just aren't seen much anymore (watching a mane of Kidman's hair transition into a tall field of grass is just spectacular).

Kidman launches into her scenes with gusto and chews into scenery like a thick steak. Wasikowska does her level-best treading the line of sexual tension and darker desires as she grows into an adult. Now if only the script were up for rivaling the direction and acting in quality. As a cat-and-mouse thriller, Uncle Charlie never has the upper hand, which makes the thriller aspect a bit off, but the horror is there though, presenting a bloodline that finds killing as easy as breathing.