Sunday, June 9, 2013

Stoker

By Sati. Sunday, June 9, 2013 , , , , , , ,
Unusual. That is the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Stoker. The film is unlike anything I've seen recently - the director Chan-wook Park has very unusual, vivid style and his movies always feel like stepping in a very weird and creepy dream. Stoker is his English language debut and the film blends between usual Park's style and this new component which is the story that is much more approachable than any other told in Park's movies yet at the same time it's very hard to understand what drives the characters and guess what lies ahead.

The film follows teenage India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), strange, quiet girl who has just lost her father whom she loved a lot. India lives in an old, big house with her mother - fragile and beautiful Evelyn (fantastic Nicole Kidman). During her father's funeral India notices someone watching her from the distance. That person turns out to be her father's brother - mysterious uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode).
Stoker is an odd combination - it is a mixture of coming of age movie, Lolita-like tale and origin story of a disturbed killer. The film's script isn't particularly strong - it was written by Wentworth Miller, yes the same Wentworth Miller who starred in Prison Break. The story has a lot of shortcomings - in the pursuit of creepy ambiance and paying homages to a bunch of other movies something is lost here - logic, emotions, the reasons why.

There is Jackie Weaver's character - India's aunt who arrives with a lot of questions and warnings. She comes over for dinner and before she leaves she gives India a note with her number and plea for India to call her. Why not just speak to India? While it did provided a cool montage and very effective phone booth scene it really lacked the proper reasoning, as did a lot of things in the movie. But what the film lacks in story was compensated with exquisite direction.
Park's movies aren't always easy to understand - plenty of times when I watched his films I had this feeling of uneasiness and confusion at the tiniest scenes because I didn't understand what they were supposed to mean. Even in his Thirst, which is my favorite movie of his, there were all of those enigmatic, symbolic tidbits thrown in that took some time to decipher. With Stoker more often than not I felt the mystery and weird moments were more of script's flaws than intentional maneuvers, but they were still interesting.

From the strange relationship between Charlie and the housekeeper through spider creeping up India's leg to India's behaviour and personality you are at loss watching this film a whole bunch of times but it's interesting enough for you to try and figure out why the events unfold the way they do. That is the movie's strength - the characters may seem cold but you still want to understand them and get to the bottom of all of this.
Stoker puts a lot of emphasis on details that either symbolize something or will become important later on - India's shoes, the belt, the birthday gifts, the ice cream. There is something hiding behind each of those things and the mystery surrounding India's shoes in particular was cleared up in a very effective scene that symbolized her becoming an adult.

The film centers around India's fascination with her uncle. She didn't even know he existed and now he is staying in her house. Charlie traveled around the world - or so India was told - and is quite sophisticated and very mysterious. He clearly takes an interest in India - he watches her, follows her, gives her weird looks. India isn't as much afraid as she is annoyed at the disturbance in her home. She is also very curious.
India is extremely attracted to Charlie - there is even an amazing piano scene where they both play and at one point India seems to achieve climax solely because of Charlie being next to her and them playing so perfectly together. It's not so much sexual as it is India literally achieving ecstasy when she finds someone a lot like her who also fascinates her at the same time.

This is also what drives Charlie's obsession towards her - the feeling that they are the same. The thing is, though, and it's ultimately the reasoning behind most of the events in the movie,  that certain kind of people, in case of those characters - sociopaths - aren't really meant to be with someone else. They are meant to be on their own. India who was told how to hunt by her father early in her life understands who she is much better than Charlie.
The film has interesting ideas, mostly the concept that certain traits, inflictions and instincts are hidden in bloodlines. I don't believe that the child of someone who is evil will be evil too but the way the movie presents the idea of "hunter gene" or whatever else to call it is fascinating. India's father knew she may want to kill in the future so he tried to control her instincts by taking her hunting. I would not be surprised if Miller turned out to be a fan of Dexter.

Despite Charlie and India having same instincts they are different in crucial ways - India's father was loving and caring and her mother, though behaving like sedated beauty queen who tries to have everything in control, cares about her daughter. India may not feel much but she is not pure evil. At least not yet.
Mia Wasikowska was a prefect choice for India. She is an extremely talented young actress and she was mesmerizing in Jane Eyre. Her India is very interesting to watch as you never know what is going on in her head and what she will do next. She is kinda like the teenage version of sadder, more delicate Wednesday Adams. While Wasikowska was great here, originally India was supposed to be played by Carey Mulligan, which would certainly be interesting.

Matthew Good did an amazing job in the movie. He was cast after Colin Firth dropped out and to be perfectly honest I just can't envision Firth playing a character like that. Another choices that were considered were James Franco and Michael Fassbender. The former would be a disaster but the latter? As much as Goode is a good looking man, Fassbender has this incredible sinister magnetism about him.
Still, Goode was great and he really made Charlie into a fascinating character. The way he carries himself certainly attracts attention and he can be both interesting and frightening at various parts of the movie. It was not an easy role considering some of the steamier scenes with India but Goode really played it well without hitting false notes. There are also scenes were we see vulnerable Charlie which were very well acted.

I really liked the direction the movie took in the end as after the big reveal I really hated Charlie, given the thing that he has done revealed in the flashback. Also considering all the hints and India's hunting hobby it was the only way to end this movie. On the other hand as well made as the ending was I felt it needed a bit more of a punch.
I have to mention Nicole Kidman's performance - she was simply amazing here. She only has about 20-30 minutes of screen time but she is unforgettable. She added so much to her character - fear, sadness, longing. Her Evelyn is aging beauty who is horribly alone. She loses her husband, her daughter is cold, her life is empty. You can see that Evelyn is extremely fragile from the beginning. So fragile it really looks like anything could push her over the edge of sanity.

Evelyn is such a tragic figure - she reminded me a lot of Blanche Dubois - the way she kept talking about silly little things with girlish smile yet you could see the emptiness in her eyes. I felt so terrible for her character and it actually made me dislike India. I watched the movie because the story was interesting but as for India I didn't root for her as I found her constant rejection of her mother incredibly cruel.
It's hard to ignore the obvious nods to Shadow of a Doubt and Bram Stoker's Dracula. I only wish they were more sinister than they turn out to be. Take for instance the dinner scene where India eats the whole meal Charlie prepared and he doesn't take a bite. Park's explanation was that he wanted to show that Charlie is different species, just like Dracula who never eats anything. It just seems a bit lazy and not thought through.

Just like in Dracula, we are dealing with bond between people that is as strange as it is strong. Dracula spent years loving one woman and finding her in someone else, reincarnated and here we have Charlie who no doubt sees the copy of himself in India and watches over her, writes to her, sends her things. It's a very strange bond as he is both her mentor and final obstacle to overcome.
The film is beautifully realized and the cinematography is mesmerizing. Each shot looks like a very surreal, perfectly framed painting. Often times the character is on the edge of the frame giving us the opportunity to focus on the detailed surroundings. The editing is something that is not easy to get use to here - it's fast, abrupt, there are many cuts between takes and there is a number of montages that move very quickly so you can't take your eyes off screen even for a second.

What adds a lot to the movie is splendid music composed by Clint Mansell. He is one of my favorite composers and his work here is fantastic - seductive, eerie, mysterious. There is also a beautiful piano piece by Philip Glass as well as perfectly placed "Summer wine".
I can't help but think that perhaps it was a mistake for Park to be the director here. While he handled the story very well and his style of film making is very unique I feel someone whose style is calmer and more reflective would be better suited here. The film flies through shots and events so fast there is no room for the camera - and the viewer' mind - to linger at anything which is quite exhausting.


Stoker has a number of noticeable flaws but it's also one of those movies that you should see more than once. There are many mysteries here and a lot of room for interpretation. Its visual beauty is certainly something to keep marveling at as well. If you are a fan of Park you will definitely like his one as his style is in each frame of the movie.

Stoker (2013, 99 min)
Plot: 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.
Director: Chan-wook Park
Writers: Wentworth Miller, Erin Cressida Wilson (contributing writer)
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode


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46 comments:

  1. Completely agree on everything, though I absolutely loved Goode in it. It was flawed, but it was v. beautiful, sexy even, and so creepy at the same time. I though Wasikowska was great and the end bit with Kidman was fantastic.
    Can't stop listening to the score either. Oh and that piano scene might be my favourite of the year so far.

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    1. The piano scene was incredible, so interesting and well done. The score is just amazing.

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  2. Great review. Though I much prefer Park's other films including Oldboy. I was glad he was able to make something that was different as well as a cut above most thrillers as I really enjoyed the performances of Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode. I can't picture Colin Firth in that role either though I could picture Michael Fassbender in that part.

    I also love Clint Mansell's score which I have in my iTunes 2013 playlist as it's my favorite score album right now.

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    1. Thanks! Yeah Firth wouldn't be able to pull this off, he just looks too kind for that sort of role. Fassbender would be great, but Goode was a fine choice here.

      It's amazing, such beautiful score, perfect for this movie.

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  3. Great review! I haven't seen it, but I've been hearing good things about this, and your review just makes me want to see it more.

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    1. Thank you! You should see it, very gorgeous and entertaining. Definitely worth seeing.

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  4. Good review Sati. It's a very strange flick, but at least it kept itself interesting, original, and twisty that we continued to keep on guessing who would do what, and how. Not Park's best, but a nice, American-language debut.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah not his best, but I enjoyed this one.

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  5. Beautiful review!! You have such a keen attention for details, hence you could capture and appreciate Park's style, who seems almost obsessed w/ details. I agree that the script is not strong, but the visual style makes up for it U think... it's sooo creepy but mesmerizing-ly so. Oh I agree that Matthew Good did an amazing job and I'm glad he's cast instead of Colin Firth. I think the fact that he looks so calm and sweet actually makes his character even more chilling.

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    1. Thank you! Yes, there was plenty of details here and even I, though I always pay attention to details had to focus because some things were so ambiguous and mysterious :)

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  6. I love when a movie sticks with me, and that's how I feel about Stoker. It's been a month or so since I've seen it and can't wait to watch it again. More than anything, I really got off on the look of the film. Nice review!

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    1. Thank you! I think I'll rewatch it soon too, the film is definitely worthy of repeated viewings.

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  7. Awesome review, Sati. So glad you liked this one. I didn't know Fassbender was considered for the role of Charlie -- I agree, he would have been a great fit. Still loved Goode's performance though, and Kidman delivered her best in years, I think. So good.

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    1. Thank you! Fassbender would be amazing here, but yeah I enjoyed Goode's performance. I liked Kidman more in Paperboy but she was fantastic here.

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  8. Really great review. I thoroughly enjoyed Stoker. I thought some of the symbolism was a bit in your face, but it was still an incredibly effective Hitchcock-esque thriller and it looked fantastic. I like how you picked up on the similarities to Dracula, I think there are quite a few instances throughout that relate to vampires, even if the story isn't specifically about them.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, I remember some people actually thinking the movie was about vampires when they saw trailers :)

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  9. I'll read your view properly later in the week, I've not seen Stoker yet. I'll watch it soon though!

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    1. I hope you'll like the movie!

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    2. Great, looking forward to your review!

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  10. Fantastic review, I just can't wait to see this one! Sounds confusing but I'm game.

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    1. Thank you! Definitely worth seeing, hope you'll enjoy it!

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  11. The only way to talk about is, SPOILER ALERT.
    This is a film of style over substance. After all, if the viewer is given time to piece the plot together, there are huge holes. Evelyn, the disaffected wife and mother, knows nothing about her husband's brother Charlie who's been in the nut-house since he was a boy for killing his young brother. Why, how, could Richard keep this a secret, world traveler indeed. And then Richard dies in a mysterious car crash? WTF. After all Charlie's release had to be court ordered and signed for. The police would round up Charlie pronto.
    But we don't know any of this till the middle of the film. Until then we see Uncle Charlie's killing spree and India blooming from the bad seed she really is. It was fascinating to see her develop but it was almost in slow motion. Then there is the question of nature over nurture. Is it DNA, or did her mother's attitude and the bullies at school make her this way? I loved the way she defended herself with a mere pencil. But she's oh so bad.
    I didn't pick up on the Dracula bit, outside of the name "Stoker" but I suppose it's symbolically there. Like a lot of mediocre mysteries, it holds off on the explanations and keeps the viewer hanging, hoping for the best.











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    1. Maybe Charlie was in private institution? They didn't necessarily have to keep him there because of the court order, maybe they did in the past and then the family decided to move him to private, quiet place.

      As for Evelyn she did act clueless concerning everything around her, so I don't think Richard would have trouble keeping her in the dark.

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  12. Great review! I've been wanting to see this for awhile. You just reminded me to go save this in Netflix.

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    1. Thank you! I hope you'll like it, so far it's my favorite movie of the year.

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  13. Terrific review! I should be seeing this in the next week or two. Can't wait! :)

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    1. Thank you! I hope you'll enjoy it, really great film though it's not without flaws.

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  14. I really liked this film. And yes Kidman was amazing,although i kind of expected that

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    1. She is really on the roll lately. Great performances all around and I love how she found the specific type of characters that suits her so well.

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  15. Wasikowska really is a subtle talent. That girl has so much game - she's just a thrill to watch. I LOVE your comparison of Evelyn and Blanche Dubois. That hadn't crossed my mind, but God, it's so fitting.

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    1. I don't think I've seen a bad performance from her. Such an amazing young actress. If they ever remade Streetcar, Kidman would be a fantastic choice to play her.

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  16. You seem to love the movie more than I did. I agree that this movie is unique, but on the way it tells its story (the editing and India's finding her true self but also a thriller/crime movie) but I felt it's a bit predictable. The editing and the visuals just sweeten the movie. But I agree the performances were great. I can picture Colin Firth, but I can't visual him flirt to Mia and Nicole. Maybe he could look colder than Goode.
    Great review!

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    1. Thank you! Yeah having Firth flirt with Mia would be a little creepy, I'm afraid.

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  17. I think I now have a crush on Mia Wasikowska, what a great actress.

    I wasn't sure if I was enjoying Stoker but in the end I loved it, can't wait to see it again.

    Have you seen Park's other films? I adored Oldboy, it's in my top 10 of all time and it wasn't until about 25 minutes in I realised, wait a minute, isn't this a Park movie? Where's his signature craziness. But oh it came!

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    1. She's terrific, I think my favorite performance of hers is Jane Eyre.

      I'm probably going to rewatch it soon, really great movie.

      I love Oldboy but my favorite movie from Park is Thirst.

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  18. Really glad you liked it as well. I thought it was quite mainly because of Goode (as you mentioned). He was menacing and a bit unsettling. Great review!

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    1. Loved Goode in it, great actor and it's so fantastic to see him in such interesting roles. Thank you!

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  19. Okay, I'm definitely in for this. Oldboy is one of my favorite films ever, so Park gets my lifelong adoration because of it.

    As I read this review, I was becoming more and more intrigued, so much so that I started to skim. But I can't shake one thing you said:

    Written by Wentworth Miller.

    I had no idea that guy was as educated as he was. When I don't refer to him as 'Prison Break Guy' he's 'That Guy from that Mariah Carey video.'

    Now I'm even more intrigued.

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    1. Oh, you should definitely see it, along with Thirst and Lady Vengeance, these two are excellent.

      I was shocked when I read he wrote the script for this one. I was a bit skeptical at first and you can clearly see it's his first effort because the amount of 'cool' stuff thrown in and blatant homages every minute or so is insane, but the mixture is very entertaining and stylish.

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  20. I like how you design your each post. This is especially beautiful. I loved Stoker too, this was an incredible watching experience.

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  21. I am trying to wrap my head around this enough to review it, but after reading yours mine would be terrible in comparison! Damn you ;)

    I wanted to love this, but just kinda liked it. Beautiful, but seemed like it missed something. I don't know, it kind of implied vampires, or supernatural, but in the end.......I dont want to do spoilers....I just felt missed the mark. Excellent write up Sati :)

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    1. No way it would be terrible!

      I must say I'm a bit surprised people expected supernatural from this...is this about Stoker name being used?

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  22. I think Goode was an inspired choice given those suggested. Firth would have come across as overly paternal and it would have been unintentionally creepy; Fassbender would have been good but the sexual element he’d bring would have been to the fore over say the elements of Charlie that are childish. Goode with his preppy look struck a nice balance between all three while not being too one or the other; and the reference in the script to India saying he looked like her father, and Evelyn finding him reminiscent of a younger Richard. You could see why both characters would find him attractive/compelling but yet he's very ambiguous before we are fully aware of the extent of his actions.

    I thought the Charlie not eating thing was fine because given his institutionalised background. I could imagine him not wanting to eat for fear of it being medicated. And given the kind of arrested development element of his character - where he's still a child in a man's body - he strikes me as the kind of child who'd not eat in extended protest rather than stage a quick tantrum.

    I think the film did set up a vampiric expectation as deliberate misdirection. I was extremely glad they didn't go there, frankly, but I really liked that it was being lampshaded.

    I like how your review understood Evelyn's isolation/alienation in her own home, which is a relief because I've seen a lot of reviewers not get it and refer to her as selfish. I think they don't get how she had this relationship with her husband and he - pretty much primed by his own tragic past to fixate on any child that he would later have - kind of let his marriage fall away once the child was born because he loved the child so much, and yet feared that they might replicate Charlie.

    So (given that it’s implied that she wasn’t very interested in the domestic elements of the household – and why should she?) Evie kind of slowly veered into this mentally fragile state because the child, India, then kept on rejecting her and didn't even want to be touched by her.

    Anyway, this didn't make me dislike India either because she just isn't wired up that way. She doesn't even get why her mother makes such a fuss about it. They're just on two entirely different wavelengths. Which is why, for India, the moment at the piano is so powerful - as is the moment with between she, Whip and Charlie. Because there’s this connection to him, and then this connection to a side of herself which has been latent (homicide). I liked that she didn’t kill Evie in the end.

    I don't mind the script per se. It leaves a lot of space of various interpretations – which I appreciate. The homages depend on what the audience is familiar with.

    Overall - having liked Park's films with Thirst and JSA probably being my least favourite - I hadn't expected to like this one but I was pleasantly surprised. I really liked that I had to watch it at least three times to understand all the visual references and cross cuts. I like the scene the remaining opening credits play over where she's searching the grounds for her last birthday present. The birthday cake reminded me of Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, in fact a lot in this film did.

    I actually wished they'd kept the deleted scene with Auntie Gin breaking the vase that's referred to during the post-funeral scenes. I actually really liked the dark humour of the scenes with Auntie Gin. And some of the visuals that you only catch later like how when India is flicking through the pages of her book the images merge so that they resemble an icecream. I really get more and more out of each watch.

    I also appreciated the subtle Lolita references: the handsome stranger who prefers the daughter while wooing the mother; India wearing her father's sunglasses; the tennis whites scene; the fact that India and her father when off together, and in a way both India and Charlie - are Enchanted Hunters. I hear a lot about the Hitchcock references but everyone seems to miss the Lolita ones.

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  23. I already posted my end of the year "list" because I thought I wouldn't watch something that would stir it up but then I watched Stoker. I loved it. Maybe it's because I haven't watched anything twisted and weird for a while and this just happened to come along and make my day. I'm getting a bit Goode obsessed now as well, he was so good in this and I think I even watch Chasing Liberty again, though it's cheesy and teenagery, I actually like it and I just want to enjoy Goode.

    I agree with hidden meanings and symbolism, I found many parallels with India and Charlie that I might talk more about in my review and that was what made the movie for me. The complexity.
    When it comes to the story, uhm, being a fan of serial killers and sociopaths (I just find them fascinating) I think Stoker didn't hit the mark 100% but it was close.

    In the end though, I kept thinking, what an amazing book this would be!? A kind of murder-esque Lolita with some incest thrown into the mix. What a plot...

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