On her eighteenth birthday, the cold and quiet India (Mia Wasikowska) must cope with the sudden death of her father and the unsettling appearance of her heretofore unknown Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), a figure of great charisma and boundless menace who moves in with India and her distant mother (Nicole Kidman). While Park has never been a subtle filmmaker, when working with Miller's symbolism- heavy script the film comes off as almost comically obvious at times. But once cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon's poetic imagery and Clint Mansell's swirling score have time to do their work, "Stoker's" baroque diorama becomes real and hypnotic.
The film only flirts with realism and isn't overly concerned with plot but from a perfectly realized early sequence where a birthday cake's flames are slowly extinguished under a hastily applied glass dome, it's clear that "Stoker" is a work of arch impressionism; and you're either along for the ride or you're not. The relationship between India and Charlie - a dance of barely restrained eroticism and familial concern - is as repulsive as it is compelling. A lesser director would have rendered their relationship, with its clumsy Freudian interplay, as crass and sleazy, but Park's restraint manages to give it a tantalizing ambiguity right until the end.
Wasikowska plays India's ambivalence about Charlie, her stifling small town and the real meaning of her father's death with a clear and light touch. She expresses a greater range than ever before, selling profound lust and sneering petulance with ease. And the clarity and wholeheartedness with which she embraces evil suggests a depth that will lead Wasikowska beyond scowling ingénue parts. By contrast, Nicole Kidman is severely limited by a lack of ability and surgical enhancement but is used well as a woman incapable of empathy. When expressing her deep desire for her daughter to suffer, Kidman is terrifying. Once again, she proves to be a better monster than compassionate human being. Matthew Goode is better here than he's ever been. He's sexiness is matched only by his calm viciousness and in the brief moments when he allows his mask of sanity to slip, rank among the finest that Park has ever filmed.
It'd be easy to dismiss "Stoker" as less than the sum of its influences. From an ominous shot of a police officer's mirrored sunglasses to key exposition delivered by laughably over-loud background dialogue to the crushingly obvious parallels to "Shadow of a Doubt," it's undeniable that Miller and Park owe a debt to Alfred Hitchcock. But it's not a sin to make one's reference points clear. Like Nicolas Refn's "Drive," the pleasures of the film don't come from spotting the bits of meticulously crafted homage but from new variations on older techniques and tropes. For example, Hitchcock would have never made a film about nascent female sexuality from a woman's perspective. Being conceptually thrilling and immaculately executed can be more important than originality.
The editing, direction and Mia Wasikowska all stand out. Clint Mansell, delightful as ever.
* Originally rated 3/5, but -1 for reasons best left to me. Nonetheless, it still stands recommended (for a single viewing0 purely on the basis of its plot and screenplay.
I recently read an article on aintitcool, where Harry Knowles said this is probably his favorite movie of 2013 so far. So, Emily and I had nothing else to watch so I figured I would give this a shot. This is Chan Wook Park's first English language movie. He directed the classic "Oldboy", so I was pretty intrigued. Well, I learned that Harry Knowles's taste in movies is a lot different than mine, because I thought this was pretty horrible. Actually one of the worst movies of 2013 so far. It's an artsy type thriller, that is just too slow and dull. Mia Wasikowska stars as India a young woman who just lost her father. Her mysterious uncle(Matthew Goode) then moves in with her and her mother(Nicole Kidman). Odd things begin to happen with the uncle and she finds herself very infatuated with him. There are a few moments of decent suspense, but most of the movie is quiet with shots of intense, yet boring, facial expressions. I was really hoping it would lead to something great, and the ending is pretty good, but it's just not worth the trip. I nodded off quite a bit and had to do a lot of rewinding. Emily passed out and she could care less, once again saying "Ev, you watch some weird ass movies." Maybe it just went over my head, or it's something I need to watch again when I'm more awake. Either way it just didn't work for me. I'm ok with a slow movie, if it has a good payoff or some great scenes throughout. Here, while there is some good, they just don't make up for it. 98 minutes here, feels like 138 minutes. It's just very tedious. Pass unless you need help sleeping.
The film focuses on the titular family of India, Evelyn, and Richard Stoker (Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and Dermot Mulroney). When Richard dies in a mysterious car crash, his oddball daughter India begins to further distance herself from her estranged mother, Evelyn. After burying their patriarch, the family is visited by India's Uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode, in hands down the best performance of his career). Charlie seems a little out there, and begins to form a sketchy relationship with India that suggests Uncle Charlie may desire more than family bonding.
To elaborate any more would spoil the film, but needless to say it's an interesting premise. The story unfolds very slowly, with few dramatic developments until deep into the second act, which contains much more wizz-bang than the somber and meticulously paced beginning. This isn't a bad thing at all, largely because the characters are so fascinating from the get-go that accompanying them while they go about their day to day lives is a pleasure. Even when the movie seems to be resting on its laurels early on, the performances are great all around (Goode, as previously mentioned, but also Wasikowska's performance as distant and on-edge India).
The lynchpin, though, is Park's direction. From the opening scene of fragmented shots with computer generated transitions that occur throughout the movie, Stoker drips with style, but thankfully not at the expense of substance, thanks Wentworth Miller's script (yep, the Prison Break guy) that tackles the deconstruction of the American family dynamic through the lens of a dark coming of age story. This film never has an ugly moment, and each shot oozes with creative shot compositions and visual flair. My personal favorite is an early scene in a basement involving a swinging light fixture (think Once upon a time in the West). The atmosphere, also, is well sustained throughout. Hopefully this is the start of what will be a long English language career for Park Chan-wook.