Unarguably one of the most interesting and acclaimed filmmakers working in cinema today
of the most interesting and acclaimed filmmakers working in cinema today,
expectations for South Korean director Park
Chan-wook’s English-language debut, Stoker,
have been practically stratospheric.
Working from a blisteringly hot spec script by actor Wentworth Miller (TV’s Prison Break), Park has crafted a sly, twisted,
sexy, adult fairytale that’s every bit as good as you hoped it’d be, rivalling
the best of his Korean films.
When India’s (Mia
Waskowska) father Richard (a flashback-confined Dermot Mulroney) is killed in a horrific car accident on her 18th
birthday, her quiet, idyllic life is irrevocably changed. A sensitive, sombre, solitary Wednesday Addams-like girl who shared a
special bond with her father, India is far from pleased when her emotionally
unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman)
invites her uncle, Richard’s long-lost, globe-trotting brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode) to stay at the house for
Charming, urbane and mysterious, Uncle Charlie instantly
arouses India’s suspicions but, as he ingratiates himself into her life, she
finds herself strangely drawn to him.
As Charlie slowly reveals their shared nature to her and long-buried
family secrets are uncovered, India becomes increasingly infatuated with him,
her blossoming sexuality the catalyst that will tear the family apart.
A dreamy, erotic Southern
Gothic fairytale that slyly nods to Hitchcock’s classic Shadow Of A Doubt, Stoker is a bubbling soup of lust, jealousy, murder and burgeoning
sexuality that you’ll find as fascinating and discomfiting as India finds
Charlie. Psychosexual imagery
permeates every frame, the film is thick with erotic tension; blood drips from
the point of a pencil, the protective shell of a flawless hard-boiled egg is
crushed and picked clean, a spider creeps up a teenaged girl’s stockinged leg,
uncle and niece share a piano recital (specifically composed by Philip Glass) that’s just plain wrong! If Stoker is indeed a fairytale with Evelyn as wicked
stepmother and India a mix of Cinderella, Rapunzel and Alice in Wonderland,
then Charlie is both Prince Charming the Big Bad Wolf, as likely to eat India
right up as he is to save her. In
fact, there’s an almost Biblical slant to Park’s queasy goings on with India as
Eve searching for truth, the estate a metaphorical Eden which she must outgrow
and Charlie both the serpent and the apple, tempting, seducing India with
The film is lushly, beautifully shot, Park’s precise
off-kilter compositions show his usual visual flair and scenes are
choreographed almost like a waltz, creating a breathless, dreamlike atmosphere
that gets under your skin. India’s
world is a self-contained, insular one where people are constantly observed,
usually by India herself. It’s an
incestuous hotbed that lacks only outright incest and the closer she gets to
Uncle Charlie, the closer that seems to come.
As Evelyn, Nicole Kidman gives her best performance in years
(possibly ever), a passive/aggressive ice queen slowly unravelling, seemingly
possessed by the unquiet spirit of Joan
Crawford, she’s a nervy, neurotic, fading beauty, needy and resentful of
the daughter she loves but will never understand, near the film’s climax
bitterly spitting at her impassive daughter: “I
can’t wait to watch life tear you apart.” Matthew Goode meanwhile plays Uncle
Charlie with lupine menace, his lazy charm and preppy, anodyne good looks
perfectly suited to the smooth monster.
The film belongs however to Mia Wasikowska. So long the best thing in mediocre films (Restless, Lawless, Tim Burton’s norovirus-bad
Alice In Wonderland), you can’t take
your eyes off her, she’s a carefully contained, poised hurricane of carnal
appetites, dark desires and homicidal violence.
A moody, psychosexual horror movie that’s beautiful, bold
and perversely erotic, Stoker is the
movie that you wished you could have taken that 20-year-old Goth chick you
dated in college to.