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Review – Stoker – movieScope

With Park Chan-wook’s English language debut came one important question; would his unique style, showcased in the likes of Oldboy and  Lady Vengeance, effectively translate to – or be watered down for – a Western narrative? There was no need for concern as, while Wentworth Miller’s story is set firmly in the monied world of America’s Southern elite, Stoker is stamped with Chan-wook’s DNA down to its core, both in its languid pace and its hypnotic visual style.

Fundamentally, this is a tale of growing up, of the loss of childhood innocence. For India (Mia Wasikowska) – a girl forever living in the shadow of her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) – the arrival of her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) after the death of her father marks something of an awakening. (This realisation that it’s time to put away childish things an idea that’s beautifully encapsulated by the shoes that are so important to her.)  Charlie, however, is not all he appears; after his arrival, events soon begin to shake the very foundations of India’s life.

The seismic change that’s taking place in and around India is reflected in cinematographer—and long-time Chan-wook collaborator—Chung-hoon Chung’s off-kilter visuals; camera angles are skewed, faces are in extreme close up and shadows dance in every corner. This, along with Clint Mansell’s evocative score and   Thérèse DePrez’s gothic production design, intentionally bring a horror movie sensibility; a creeping sense of unease which heightens with every twisting scene. Indeed, the vampire genre motifs that run through the film—the family name of Stoker; the mysterious, seductive stranger; the heightened soundtrack —are entirely by design, and effectively underscore the bad blood that ties this family together.

It takes strong performances to match such masterful filmmaking, and all three main players deliver in spades. Kidman is superb as the woman desperately trying to hide the disappointment she feels about her daughter; desperately trying to hold on to her own sense of self in the face of life as a widow. As India, Wasikowska is, for most of the film, quiet, brooding and insular, but there’s a palpable sense of something bubbling just under the skin, something waiting to be unlocked; keys being another recurring motif. As Charlie, Goode oozes charm and style; handsome and attentive, the affect he has on women is entirely believable. Yet there’s something clearly off-kilter with him, too, and Goode handles this side of the character with just the right amount of subtlety and restraint.

A film which touches on many things—youth and beauty, guilt and betrayal, family and fate—Stoker positively demands an emotional response. It’s a film that seduces and ravishes, delights and shocks; it gets under the skin from the very first and stays there until the final credits roll (in disorienting reverse, of course).




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