18th March 2013

Review: Stoker

Robbie Davidson looks at the new film from the director of Oldboy

Many would say that the gap between film and art has grown increasingly wide as we gorge ourselves on a feast of Transformers sequels and Spiderman reboots, but there is no denying that Stoker is pure art. As I watched this beautiful film unfold I was sure I could pause it at any point and whatever frame I landed on would be visually stunning and a piece of art in and of itself. Credit here to Korean director, Park Chan-wook, whose eye for inventive and unnerving framing is staggering. Couple this with his fantastic use of sound mixing and you have a film which is a dream for any fan of film as an art form. Chan-wook lets no moment pass without a new and original  interpretation: the simple act of sipping a glass of wine feels unbearably tense and imbued with sexual perversity thanks to the director’s unique eye.

The plot itself is a surprisingly classic story on paper: India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) has recently lost her father in a suspicious car accident. In the wake of her father’s death her enigmatic uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) moves in with her and her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) much to her initial disdain. What follows is an imaginative journey of India’s sexual awakening, tied closely to the release of her own violent nature which is suggested to be “in the blood” of the Stoker family. The cuckolding mother and mysterious uncle are not the only features which lend Stoker its period-neutral quality: everything from the family estate, the clothes they wear and the cars they drive all allow the film to transcend any constraints of the period drama.

This is Park Chan-wook’s first English-language film after his international success with The Vengeance Trilogy and the brilliant Oldboy, (which coincidentally is receiving its American remake due out later this year) and perhaps he chose Stoker as his first English film because it is not by any means dialogue-heavy. Much of the story is told by the camera and not by the script, which allows the actors to express themselves through more than just their words. However this shouldn’t detract from what is an impressive debut screenplay from Wentworth Miller (yes, the guy from Prison Break!) who displays the confidence of a writer well aware of the pitfalls of over saturated dialogue.

With Chan-wook’s invasive visual style many actors may have found their performances becoming overshadowed. Thankfully this is not the case and Wasikowska shows that she is one of the most versatile talents working today. Her pale skin and plain features allow the camera to paint her with whatever brush they desire, and let her totally disappear into her characters. This was seen last year in her fantastic interpretation of the title character in Jane Eyre, and is on display here more than ever as India’s suppressed sexual and violent tendencies unravel. The implausibly handsome, Goode, is able to hide all of uncle Charlie’s dark secrets behind his still and composed exterior which makes the film’s final twist all the more shocking. Kidman also gives one of her best performances in years as the emotionally unhinged mother in a type of role she is far better suited to than some of her more recent fare.

With performances this strong and a director so in charge of his medium, you’re allowed to simply wait in appreciation and horror for the conclusion of one of this year’s best films.

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