FEBRUARY 7, 2013
The best way to watch Stoker is to know nothing at all. Go in completely blind, and read nothing (including this review, though that's good advice for all movies really). I'll use details after the break, but for you main-pagers: let it surprise you on every level, from the cast, to the screenwriter (if you even recognize the name), and especially the director, who was behind one of the most beloved movies of the past decade and doesn't work fast enough for anyone, which can put unreasonable expectations on his new films as a result. Thank me later!
For those of you who are still here, yes, this is the new film from Chan-Wook Park, who made a movie called Oldboy that you might be familiar with (as well as the quite good Thirst, which I need to revisit as it's been 4 years!). This has some of Oldboy's shocking violence and a good plot twist or two, but is a very different film. For lack of a better term, this (his English language debut) is very much a "Fox Searchlight Horror" film, in that it's a bit slow, very dry, and features a couple of Oscar nominees that you don't see in genre fare all that often. Park brings his trademark inventiveness behind the camera (as well as constant DP Chung-hoon Chung), finding ways to make even a simple conversation between two characters sitting down in a room look like the most visually stimulating thing you've seen. There's a dissolve from Nicole Kidman's hair to an overgrown field that made me want to applaud. A dissolve!
Park also offers two of the most erotically charged scenes I've seen in a horror flick since Amer. In one, our two main characters play a duet at the piano, and as the male (Matthew Goode) reaches around the female (Mia Wasikowska) to play keys on the other side of her, she... well, you'll see. The other isn't as subtle; after seeing a scene where she beats up a would-be attacker, she takes a shower and begins to masturbate to the images of what REALLY happened. Much like the violence in the film, it's sudden and shocking, and more than makes up for the fact that the movie can be a bit slow moving. There are only a few characters and they rarely venture outside of the primary location (their home), making these moments count more than they would in a more traditionally paced film.
The title refers to the family name, and certainly suggest a film about vampires, but I'm not going to tell you whether or not that is actually what's going on, as that's part of the fun. Taking cues from Hitchcock's Shadow Of A Doubt, the movie is about a mysterious uncle (Goode, and also named Charlie just to make sure we know it's an intentional homage) who comes to live with his brother's family after he dies in a car wreck, with Wasikowska in the Teresa Wright role as the suspicious niece. But the difference is, she's already seen to be a bit off, letting spiders crawl over her despite not liking to be touched, sleeping in a bed full of shoes, etc. At a certain point you'll probably start wondering if she's more dangerous than Charlie, and like the vampire thing, figuring that out is one of the movie's many joys. Wasikowska is wonderful in the role; not only does she instantly grab our attention and sympathy despite the strangeness, but she has a preternatural ability to look gawky or alluring depending on the needs of the scene, but without actually doing anything to change her appearance (no "glasses on/hair up" type stuff). And Goode is terrific; he's creepy enough to worry about but not so much that it spoils his intentions too early. Hell, even Kidman is good; can't remember the last time I liked her in anything (Cold Mountain?).
Remember that sequence in Delicatessen where all of the sounds become amplified? Stoker is like that for most of its runtime. India has advanced hearing, so when not inadvertently eavesdropping, she hears sounds of nature and such, and Park turns up the volume on just about every action she commits: sharpening a pencil, shelling an egg... this will be a great movie to show off your surround sound system, oddly enough. It's a big factor in the movie's general uneasy feeling, and even when I was compelled to wince at the over-exaggerated sound of a crunch or tap on a surface, I found myself perversely delighted by it all the same. Maybe it's because HMAD-ing has exposed me to enough passionless filmmaking to last a lifetime, but I found myself grinning more often than not throughout the film, because I was so taken by Park and his crew's attention to minor details and obvious "how can we make this more interesting?" thinking (I particularly loved loved LOVED the bit where Kidman is in a room with two entrance doors, one open and one closed - Charlie chooses to open the closed one and enter). That the story had its own surprises that would work even if the director was tossing the camera in the corner and calling it a day made it all the more of an enriching experience. Highly recommended, and I couldn't ask for a better movie to celebrate HMAD's 6th birthday with - this is the sort of thing I set out to find when I started the site: off the radar, original films that I didn't want to "review" in a traditional sense, but would love to talk about for hours with those who have already seen it. So when it comes out: do that.
What say you?