Director: Chan-wook Park
Starring: Mia Wasikowski, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver, Ralph Brown.
Written by: Wentworth Miller
Running Time: 98 mins
Release date: 1st March 2013
There has been much excitement buzzing around this first English language film from the director of Oldboy. The trailer looks incredibly weird yet enticing, while the poster virtually gives nothing away. So has the hype surrounding this film been worth while. In a way, yes.
India Stoker is a girl whose father dies on her 18th birthday. This loner now has to live with a mother she doesn’t like even hugging, when her Uncle Charlie arrives after travelling Africa. There is something not quite right with Uncle Charlie He is soon seducing India’s mother and the girl is finding herself more and more drawn to him. Yet behind his boyish good looks hides a very dark and disturbing secret that the girl wants to discover more about.
Chan-wook Park’s film is not an easy one to categorise. It covers so many genres: is it a horror? A crime thriller? A dysfunctional family tale? Well, it’s all of the above and so much more. This isn’t a film that just deals with a straight-forward narrative but, like an onion, it is layer after layer of complex imagery and symbolism and while it might to sit comfortably in the dreary world of the multiplex, lovers of films that challenge you and push your understanding to the limit will lap it up.
It’s also a film that relies heavily of the visuals. Park is not afraid to use his camera. Instead of static shots of faces in conversation, he may concentrate on something else or frame the shot so we get a cheek of a neck or, in most cases and the one stand-out imagery, hair. I can almost place money that there will be countless essays and books in which the main discussion about Stoker is the use of hair. It is everywhere in the film and beautifully shot too, including the few strains around a bar of soap.
The performances are pretty impressive too. Mia Wasikowski, who you may remember took the lead in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, is effectively creepy as the pale looking odd-ball India. With her dark hair and white, white skin and piecing, staring eyes, she is a girl almost possessed with some form of hidden evil that only Uncle Charlie can release. As the mysterious Uncle, Matthew Goode is both charming and psychotic in equal measures. You can understand how he manages to seduce any female, while at the same time, behind those smouldering eyes he is a man who can manipulate and even murder. Finally there’s Nicole Kidman, who in a few weeks time appears as a temptress in The Paperboy. Here she is a woman drawn to Charlie’s charms and sizzles with sexuality. It’s proof that the actress still can do very little yet seems so much.
The film is packed with impressive scenes that just ignite the screen. The moment when India is playing the piano and Charlie joins her in a duet, leading to an almost highly charged sexual encounter is as erotic and chilling as anything I have seen in a long time. The script by Prison Break Wentworth Miller has been knocking around Hollywood for some time now and it has taken as visionary like Park to really deliver it. A huge homage to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, I found that, even though it never rushes and takes its time, you are drawn into the world of these people and are captivated by the loving detail and look of the piece.
I do fear that regular visitors to the world of Cine will come away either not understanding or not caring about anyone in the film, but will scratch their heads with their popcorn covered fingers, wondering what they just witness. This will become a staple diet at most cult cinemas and will delight film fans who will want to seem clever, even if they don’t fully get it. I admit, there are some moments I didn’t get but what I did get was that I was watching a classy piece of cinema, from a film maker who isn’t afraid to experiment with images and is the most beautiful piece this side of Life of Pi.