Wednesday, 9 October 2013
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Staring: Mia Wasikowska, Dermot Mulroney, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
Plot: India Stoker (Wasikowska) solitary and privileged life is thrown into a tailspin by the death of her father Richard (Mulroney). Left with her estranged and mildly unstable mother Evelyn (Kidman), who upon meeting Richard’s charming and charismatic brother Charlie (Goode) at the funeral invites him to stay with them, unaware of the secrets he is hiding.
Review: There is always going to be a certain amount of hesitation whenever one of the heavy hitters of foreign cinema decides to make a stab at the English speaking market, especially when there is the prospect of their style not translating to a Western audience, let alone the inevitable meddling from studio bosses. A fate which has sadly befallen many a great director with Guillermo del Toro’s “Mimic” certainly being a prime example of such meddling. Now Park Chan-Wook throws his directing hat into the international directing ring, after wowing us previously with his Vengeance trilogy, which included the soon to be (unnecessary) remade “Oldboy”, while he also showed us a lighter and more playful side with the sadly overlooked “I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK” which he made for his daughter. Both showcased his visual flair with frequent love for unconventional plot points, such as the sign language sex scene in “Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance”. Needless to say I was curious to see how his style would translate, while equally interested to see if his style would be forced to be toned back to suit a western audience. Thankfully Chan-Wook fans can rest assured that he has lost none of his visual flair in the transition from his native Korea, with this Hitchcock influenced tale.
Okay at this point I probably have said too much about this film, as this is certainly one best seen blind. True this is no easy feat these days were information is but a mouse click away. I will also state right now that there is a high chance of spoilers ahead so consider yourself warned. So save yourself now and go watch what is possibly one of the more original and rewarding releases of this year and then come back to read the rest of this review or potential ruin some of the surprises.
Scripted by Wentworth Miller who is no doubt better known as an actor especially to fans of “Prison Break”, but here he proves himself equally capable as a screenwriter, while equally keen for his work to stand on its own merits rather than due to his star power, as seen by the fact that he submitted the script along with a prequel, "Uncle Charlie" under the pseudonym Ted Foulke stating that
“I just wanted the scripts to sink or swim on their own”.
Despite the obvious assumption from the title to assume that this is yet another vampire movie, thankfully it isn’t despite the intentional nod to the grandfather of vampire fiction, "Stoker" is in fact a psychological thriller with horror undertones, with the title also being a literal indication of the role Charlie’s sudden appearance plays. It is worth noting though that this film is not one for the inpatient movie goer especially seeing how the first half is certainly a slow burn as Chan-Wook slowly moves the pieces into place, before slowly revealing the truth behind the mystery which hangs over the family as paranoia runs high over who Charlie really is. Even more so as he worms his ways further into the family through India’s mother who soon warms to his obvious charms and pretentious cooking skills. Goode really embodies the role and easily carries off the air of mystery which constantly surrounds Charlie, while equally chilling when he reveals his true colours in the second half. Equally interesting is how the film is almost entirely shot around the family home, with only a handful of scenes being shot outside of this location, ensuring that the viewer’s focus is kept with these three characters only occasionally bringing in a supporting character, when required to drive the story forward or add another angle to their characters. Thankfully they are interesting enough for this strategy to work, while such maintained focus only serves to crank up the tension further, as Chan-Wook teases out his final twist, which is only further highlights that the only thing which has changed with Chan-Wook making this film in the Hollywood studio system is the language his actors are speaking.
The cast here are all perfectly cast in their roles, with Kidman continuing her love of working with creative directors, having previously worked with Stanley Kubrick, Lars Von Trier and Baz Luhrmann, it would only make sense that she would eventually make a film with Chan-Wook and while it might be more of a supporting role than you would expect from such a big name actress. Meanwhile Wasikowska continues to mark herself out as an actress to watch, as she perfectly embodies the disconnected nature of India who actively distances herself from her classmates, while perfectly portraying her slow decent into a much darker side, as Charlie’s influence over her and her mother becomes all the more present.
It is worth noting for the establish fans of Chan-Wook’s work that the violence here is actually kept to a minimum, though still maintaining all his usual flair as simple acts like Charlie slowly removing his belt of India icily looking down the sights of her rifle, still showcasing that even when he isn’t shocking us he is still scarily effective at making even the most simplist of moments visually stimulating, especially with his long standing DP Chung-hoon Chung also present here to ensure that his trademark inventiveness behind the camera is present. This visual flair is non the more present than with the scenes between India and Charlie, especially during the more erotically charged scenes such as a duet they share over the piano which positively crackles with (questionable) sexual tension, much like the shots of her masturbating in the shower after despatching of a would be attacker while replaying the event in her head. Like the occasional burst of violence scattered throughout the film, these moments are so sudden and often without warning that the viewer is given no chance to prepare for what they are watching, which only makes them all the more effective.
While perhaps not as good as some of his previous films perhaps due to it being the first film which Chan-Wook hasn't written himself, it is none the less a positive start for his first venture into the English language market, while certainly giving us one of the more interesting films of the year.