Saturday 2 March 2013

Review: Stoker

Year: 2013
Director: Chan-wook Park
Screenplay: Wentworth Miller
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Jacki Weaver 

Synopsis is here

In my opinion, Stoker makes Kim Jee-woon's mediocre actioner, The Last Stand even more of a bust than I had previously considered. The bullish and assured direction that is shown scene after scene in Stoker, tells me that nothing was lost in translation with this piece of work. Everything that needed to be placed on screen is there for all to see. No transgression is diluted, no scratch left to itch, just a grubby psychosexual thriller that seeps under the skin.

For me, a lot of the unease I felt comes from the heady brew of vulnerability, hormones and identity crisis I felt for the lead character of India; a young girl who loses her father (and best friend) in a tragic turn of events (on her 18th birthday). Her closest male bond broken, we see her fragile nature come to the fore. Symbolised with a simple egg cracking scene, we quickly see the damage take it's toll. There's no help from the mothers side (an on form Kidman), she's too far gone. It seems a void needs to filled.

Once again, we're thrown back into the Southern Gothic (see also Beautiful Creatures, Killer Joe, Beasts of the Southern Wild) where the landscape is melodramatic and senses and emotions are heightened. The humid haze of the south appears to be the perfect sandbox for the likes of Park, whose production is drenched with rich, scrumptious detail and a near unbearable foreboding tone.

The fashion in which Charlie trickles into the lives of both mother and daughter is intoxicating. Manipulating with an emotional wrought mother with drives and cooking is one thing. But the intellectual seduction of India is laced with such terse sense of danger. To have such incestuous intimacy is taboo enough, however, the grave stench of necrosis that Charlie brings with him only ramps up the tension. Particularly as India, a girl now becoming aware of her own sexuality seems she may have a penchant for the dark. A piano sequence delights in it's deviousness.  

Some have detailed how much of Stoker feels derivative, particularly as it's writer Wentworth Miller (Prison Break) borrowed liberally from sources such as Dracula (see the title) and Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt for the screenplay. Clearly I see their point, and yet there's something so forceful about the how the images are display that I bypassed such things. Elsewhere; Mia Wasikowska hits the right balance of angst, while Matthew Goode brings the similar sense of menace that Robert Mitchum held in The Night of the Hunter (1955). Kidman's portrayal of damaged goods is a sly reminder of how good she can be with the right material. Watching the mind games unravel may not be surprising to some, but I found them consistently engaging.  

With the so called summer films begin to seek out other months to grab hold of the all mighty dollar, I thank goodness for the likes of Stoker still being allowed to be made and brought to theatres. With so much cinema focused on the pockets of teenage boys (things that go boom), I am still fascinated in the many movies that invest in adolescent girls even when they are not the audience. They have been recently the focal point of the likes of Winter's Bone (2010), Whip It (2011), Hanna (2011) and Excision (2012). Please don't mistake my shock as debasement in anyway. I just find a certain depiction of the teenage girl to be an exceptionally defining image within the movies I watch. The brew of vulnerability, sense of identity, guts and hormones nearly always bring involving and entertaining stories. I add Stoker to the pile.