Dir. Park Chan-wook
Reviewer. Dan Cook
While it’s title might insinuate a biopic of the author of DRACULA, Park Chan-wook’s 2013 psychosexual thriller STOKER is instead an enthralling and seductive experience that plays like a curious, and slightly perverted hybrid of Alfred Hitchcock, Daphne Du Maurier, Charlotte Bronte and William Shakespeare. The only English language film to be made by the great South Korean auteur and penned by PRISON BREAK’s Wentworth Miller (written under the pseudonym of Ted Foulkes), the movie is frequently odd, often bewildering, morbidly funny, deceptively sexy and, at times, horrifically violent and while it may not be as gruesome or as relentlessly nasty as many of his previous works, Park’s distinctive visual style and love for the twisted is kept neatly in tact.
Mia Wasikowska stars as India, a reclusive young girl with enhanced awareness of her senses whose life is torn apart by the sudden death of her wealthy father (Dermot Mulroney). Left alone in her palatial country home with her miserable thoughts and with her unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), India’s solitary existence is unexpectedly shattered when her charismatic uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to stay. And to say anymore would spoil the fun.
Park’s films are known for their visceral nature and lurking eroticism but STOKER may very well be his most overtly sensual to date, with the director amplifying the many extraordinary sights and sounds of his film to create an eerie yet hedonic sensibility; the cracking shell of an egg being slowly rolled on a table, the aromatic smells and tastes of a 20 year old glass of wine, the sounds of floorboards creaking in an otherwise silent room, a solitary light piercing the darkness of a cob web strewn basement, the straining squeaks of a leather belt being tightened around a man’s neck. These moments of heightened sensual overload help place us firmly in the headspace of our tortured central protagonist and when combined with Chung Hoon-chung’s frequently warped cinematography and Clint Mansell’s ethereal underscoring, the already strange, off-kilter storytelling and purposefully disorientating editing style are greatly amplified.
The performances are uniformly brilliant. CRIMSON PEAK's Mia Wasikowska is terrific in the rather thankless role of the socially detached India whose dourness would make Wednesday Addams herself jealous while Nicole Kidman is wonderfully understated yet highly memorable as India’s loveless mother who bears little sympathy or sadness for either her lost spouse or her increasingly estranged daughter. But it is Matthew Goode who really shines here, delivering a performance which bleeds charisma and charm yet reeks of underlying menace and poisonous intent - a textbook example of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Or in this case, designer sunglasses.
With its themes of burgeoning adulthood, forbidden sexual awakenings, the loss of innocence and unknown family histories, the film is a consistently intriguing psychological thriller that may not have the soul-searing power of OLDBOY or THIRST but is nonetheless unforgettable and quite bold in its storytelling, it’s characters and the increasingly Freudian methods in which the narrative develops. Casual viewers may miss the much publicised viciousness of his previous works and some may even be put off by the films sometimes glatial pace. For me however, this is one of Park Chan-wook’s most accomplished and most entertaining movies to date that reveals more of its secrets with each new delicious viewing. Rich in symbolism, dripping in gothic atmosphere and showcasing the directors trademark artistry behind the camera, STOKER is a sumptuous banquet for the eyes and ears.