Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Film Review: "Stoker" (2013)

" My ears hear what others cannot hear; small faraway things people cannot normally see are visible to me. These senses are the fruits of a lifetime of longing, longing to be rescued, to be completed. Just as the skirt needs the wind to billow, I'm not formed by things that are of myself alone. I wear my father's belt tied around my mother's blouse, and shoes which are from my uncle. This is me. Just as a flower does not choose its color, we are not responsible for what we have come to be. Only once you realize this do you become free, and to become adult is to become free.” Which sums what this rather unusual film from the director of Oldboy called Stoker. This British-American psychological thriller film directed by Park Chan-wook, his English-language debut, and written by Wentworth Miller, star of Prison Break. The story follows After India's father dies, her Uncle Charlie, who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother. She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.

Wentworth Miller, mostly known as an actor on shows such as Prison Break, wrote the screenplay for Stoker, as well as a prequel, Uncle Charlie. He used the pseudonym Ted Foulke for submitting his work, later explaining "I just wanted the scripts to sink or swim on their own." Miller's script was voted to the 2010 "Black List" of the 10 best unproduced screenplays then making the rounds in Hollywood. Miller described it as a "horror film, a family drama and a psychological thriller." Although influenced by Bram Stoker's Dracula, Miller clarified that Stoker was "not about vampires. It was never meant to be about vampires but it is a horror story. A stoker is one who stokes, which also ties in nicely with the narrative." Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) also influenced the film. Miller said: "The jumping-off point is actually Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. So, that's where we begin, and then we take it in a very, very different direction." There are a number of Hitchcock's themes, plot devices and motifs used within it. Both Matthew Goode's character and Joseph Cotten's character in Shadow of a Doubt share the name "Uncle Charlie", as well as Hitchcock's use of the likeable criminal. The complexly intertwined relationship that develops between Uncle Charlie and India also references Hitchcock's use of the double with the young Charlie and Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt. Many of Uncle Charlie and India's key interactions occur on a staircase, which is a Hitchcock motif also used in Shadow of a Doubt. There is a pivotal scene in Stoker that takes place near a train track and the rumbling train makes an aural intrusion, which plays into Hitchcock's use of trains as a sexual euphemism.

The film marked director Park Chan-wook's English-language debut. In January 2011, it was reported that Mia Wasikowska was in negotiations to play India, and in February, Nicole Kidman also entered negotiations to join the cast. In June, it was reported that Matthew Goode was in talks to play Charlie, after Colin Firth, who was attached earlier, had to drop out. Jacki Weaver, Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich, and Dermot Mulroney joined the cast in July and August 2011. Filming took 40 days beginning in Nashville, Tennessee, in September 2011. The motel scenes were filmed in nearby Murfreesboro on September 22, and additional scenes were shot in Sewanee, home of the University of the South. Principal photography wrapped on October 23.

The film stared Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman. Wasikowska gave a brilliant performance as the film's psychologically disturbed heroine India. Her performance combined Hitchcock's psychological characterization of female characters (whether heroine or victim or villain) and Burton's coming-of-age freak-out that she obtained through her previous work in Alice in Wonderland (2010). Kidman is at her finest as a disinterested mother. She shows fear and disdain in the most subtle ways, never overplaying a character that could turn into a campy arch villain with just the tiniest bit of scene-chewing. And Goode is the most menacing of all. The malevolent force that hides behind the facade not only of normalcy but of something attractive that you know is incredibly dangerous.

Hideously grim, and oddly beautiful, Stoker is a beguiling mix of the generic and the unfamiliar, and it ends on a shot that's nothing short of striking. Park prizes craftsmanship over bargain-bin schlock. It's an odd testament to his spiritedness that, despite the coldblooded killing and trail of the dead, the film feels warmly suffused with life. It is a worthy new start to an incredible career to a director who established himself as the new light in Asian cinema. There's a genuine sophistication, both technically and thematically, to what Park is doing in this film. Park forces us to consider a world where good intentions go awry, decent people do bad things, and fate deals cruel cards. But even at its darkest moments, the film finds surprising and heartbreaking shreds of humanity. Executed with style and it sets up a situation that provides some food for thought. Almost every scene contains something surprising, even startling -- we feel as if Park is searching for a new way of seeing. However, it's not a new idea, that violence and horror is in all of us. But it's one worth relearning. In addition, the film isn't for everyone, but it offers a breath of fresh air to anyone gasping on the fumes of too many traditional Hollywood thrillers. To conclude, it’s extremely well-written and keeps all its cards hidden until just the right point to play each one. Oh, you might not like where it goes, but if you can appreciate artistic merit in your varied cinematic entertainment, then grow into it. It's another triumph from one of the world's best new filmmakers, and it is not to be missed.

Simon says Stoker receives:

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