4 March 2013

STOKER- Review

Sometimes, I wonder how much studio attention is required to make a bloated, nonsensical mess like A Good Day To Die Hard. Certainly, it didn't take a lot of presence of mind from the filmmakers, but it reeks of yet another film that was nursed from script to screen (and dropped on its head a few times) by an accountant.

Perhaps everyone at Fox was looking at that, and that's how Park Chan-wook got away with making Stoker, the most surreal and disturbing mainstream studio feature in many years, while everyone's attention was diverted. The film centres around 18-year-old India Stoker, who is left with her slightly unhinged mother, when her beloved father dies in a car accident. India is beguiled by the arrival of her previously unknown uncle, Charlie, whose appearance coincides with a number of strange disappearances, and the end of our heroine's innocence.

The really disconcerting thing about Stoker is that once it's over, screenwriter Wentworth Miller's (yes, that one) story seems deceptively straightforward, albeit with a few little kinks and twists. However, in his English-language debut, Park has found the most rewarding and visually interesting way of telling this particular tale. His own inimitable style mingles with the Southern Gothic tropes that looked so good on recent films like Killer Joe and Beautiful Creatures, and yet it is nothing like either of those films, and nor does it distract when it draws any other comparisons.

Despite this, Park draws attention to a number of other touchstones in cinema. India is reminiscent of several other moody female protagonists in coming-of-age movies, and Mia Wasikowska gives an eerie, compelling performance as the lead. Elsewhere, the very presence of an uncle Charlie recalls Hitchcock's Shadow Of A Doubt, with Matthew Goode standing in for Joseph Cotten. Given the associations of the film's title, there's a lot of meaning to be gleaned from Goode's almost supernatural charisma, and together with Wasikowska's turn, and an often-hysterical performance from Nicole Kidman, this brings a weirdly seductive atmosphere to the film.

One of the other surprising things about the film is the credit for editor Nicolas de Toth, whose recent filmography is a roll-call of shitty Fox movies. When you do some digging though, it turns out that the film was not entirely free from studio interference after all. According to a recent Guardian interview with Park, Fox Searchlight brought in de Toth to cut 20 minutes out of the film. While I'm not in favour of interfering with the auteur's vision at any level, this one feels just long enough to be urgent in spite of its tension-building pace, so I'm loath to admit that maybe the right edits were made here.

The mystique is bursting out of just about every frame that made it in anyway- the film was lensed by Park's regular cinematographer Chung hoon-Chung, and there are a number of mind-bogglingly beautiful shots. Chung and Park create a number of motifs through the film too, the most potent of which involves eggs, and a yolk-y colour palette. For the same reason as they're associated with Easter, eggs first represent resurrection, but also, new life waiting to emerge. At first, that applies to Charlie, who engages with India and looks so much like her late father, but inevitably comes to bear on India's arc. Park portrays the end of innocence as the end of a delusion, and India's transition to adulthood shatters several comfortable notions that she may have been maintaining.

Stoker is a mesmerising and mischievous art film, somehow released wide for the optimum range of mind-fucking. It's a sublime English-language debut for Park Chan-wook, who delights in disorientating the audience. Even the end credits run the wrong way, just to unsettle people as they leave the cinema. Within some staggering camera movements and a dizzying story structure, strong performances anchor the story, and the audience's attention. The result is a rich and unique coming-of-age drama, which is consistently and refreshingly unpredictable.

Stoker is still showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen
Stoker, why not share your comments below? And feel free to share your arguments about the egg symbolism! I promise not to go full-Media-student when I review Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters tomorrow...
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

No comments: