Sunday, March 24, 2013
Directed by Chan-wook Park and written by Wentworth Miller with additional contributions by Erin Cressida Wilson, Stoker is a teenage girl who gets an unexpected from her uncle following the death of her father. The film is an exploration into the world of family as it goes into very dark places as it relates to a man’s relationship with his teenage niece where it goes into harrowing territory. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Dermont Mulroney, Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich, Phyllis Somerville, and Jacki Weaver. Stoker is a mesmerizing yet chilling film from Chan-wook Park.
The film is about a young teenage girl named India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) whose life is shaken by the death of her father (Dermont Mulroney) as the only person in her life is her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) whom she doesn’t have much of a relationship with. The arrival of her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) whom India had never known about shake things up even more as he raises a lot of intrigue for both India and Evelyn as the latter clings to Charlie for companionship. Still, something doesn’t feel right for India as mysterious disappearances involve people she knows start to happen while she becomes entranced by Charlie’s charm. After learning more about Charlie, India would also uncover more dark secrets about what really happened to her father as well as why she never heard about Charlie in the first place.
Wentworth Miller’s screenplay does explore the life of this young woman who is quite detached from reality in some ways as she is known to be gifted in art, piano-playing, and being a very skilled hunter. Yet, she’s also a loner as she always wears these schoolgirl shoes since childhood as she is very close to her father but her relationship with her mother hasn’t been easy. Notably as Evelyn is an unstable individual who seems to envy India over her relationship with her father while she has always been lonely. By the time Charlie comes to the house, Evelyn wants to be with him until she learns that Charlie is more interested in India that increases the already troubled relationship between the two women. Once India learns more about Charlie, she is both repulsed and fascinated by his secrets.
Miller’s script allows the mystery to unfold slowly while playing with the tropes of what is expected in a suspense/thriller. There are small characters who only appear briefly as they seem to know more than what India and Evelyn might realize. Yet, it does add to this element of mystery where it gives India a chance to piece things out where the third act has her not only making some realizations about herself but also why her father has never said anything about Charlie. Miller’s script also has some stylish dialogue that includes a few voice-overs and monologues including a very chilling one from Evelyn towards India that reveals a lot of the jealousy a mother has towards her daughter.
Chan-wook Park’s direction is very stylish though not in its look as Park is able to keep some of the visual elements a bit simpler where it’s shot on location in Nashville, Tennessee. Yet, Park is able to infuse a lot of interesting images to present this mixture of family melodrama with some suspense where he plays into the world of death as well as family. Park’s direction does have him using a lot of interesting framing devices to play into the sense of detachment between mother and daughter and how someone like Charlie could be placed in the middle of this lingering tension. Even where Park is intrigued by the mother-daughter tension where not a lot is revealed yet it is clear in the acting that these two women don’t really like each other but they still want something from another.
Park also creates some very interesting images to not just play out the suspense and melodrama but also do with a large degree of style. Notably in the tracking shots where his camera is often moving to capture the sense of movement such as India wandering around the house to observe Charlie. There are also images that play out the sense of style where Park would re-create images to explore India’s mind as she is pondering about her own persona that is dark at times but also girlish. Things do get unveiled in the third act where it goes into very dark territory that does play into Park’s fascination with violence as well as sexuality where it shows India becoming more of a woman to the surprise of her mother that adds more tension between the two. Overall, Park creates a very entrancing yet visceral film about family and the dark secrets that lurk in them.
Cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon does excellent work with the film‘s photography to play out some of the beautiful look of some of the location exteriors as well as some beautiful lighting schemes for some of the scenes at the Stoker home including its dark basement. Editor Nicolas de Toth does spectacular with the film‘s very stylized yet seamless editing that is filled with an array of jump-cuts and dissolves including some montages and match cuts that are just exquisite in its imagery and impact. Production designer Therese DePrez, along with set decorator Leslie Morales and art director Wing Lee, does amazing work with the look of the Stoker home as well as some locations around the area including the Stoker garden.
Costume designers Kurt and Bart do brilliant work with the costumes from the clothes that Charlie wears to the stylish yet clean-cut dresses and shoes that India wears to display her transition from teenager to womanhood. Sound designers Chuck Michael and John Morris do superb work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of some of the exterior locations including some scenes set in the house to play up that air of suspense. The film’s music by Clint Mansell is phenomenal for its eerie yet intoxicating score that is filled evocative piano pieces and brooding orchestral pieces as well as additional piano duets by Philip Glass along with songs by Lee Hazelwood with Nancy Sinatra and Emily Wells.
The film’s cast is just marvelous as it includes some noteworthy appearances from Ralph Brown as a sheriff, Lucas Till as a classmate who constantly harasses India, Alden Ehrenreich as another classmate who is interested in India, Judith Godreche as a doctor, Phyllis Somerville as the Stoker family maid, Dermont Mulroney as India’s father Richard, and Jacki Weaver in a terrific appearance as India’s great aunt Gin who definitely knows a lot about some of the Stoker family secret. Nicole Kidman is great as Evelyn as a woman seemingly trying to put on a façade to deal with her grief as she clings to Charlie for companionship while harboring some resentment towards her own daughter over Charlie and her late husband Richard.
Matthew Goode is superb as Charlie where he has this very clean-cut look where he is handsome and charming but also has a very dark demeanor that is very intoxicating to watch as he later unveils more and more about who he really is. Finally, there’s Mia Wasikowska in a remarkable performance as India Stoker where Wasikowska displays a chilling restraint to her role as well as a low-key dark humor to her role as she just commands every scene she’s in by doing so little while also being quite confrontational as it’s definitely one of Wasikowska’s finest performances.
Stoker is an incredible film from Chan-wook Park that features top-notch performances from Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman. While it’s a very stylized thriller with some unique images and themes on family, it’s also an interesting one that plays into some of the dark traits about families. For fans of Chan-wook Park, the film definitely serves as a reminder into why he’s one of the best filmmakers working today where he infuses the film with a lot of exotic imagery and heavy themes. In the end, Stoker is a tremendous film from Chan-wook Park.
Chan-wook Park Films: (The Moon Is… the Sun’s Dream) - (Trio) - (Judgment) - JSA: Joint Security Area - Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance - (If You Were Me-Never Ending Piece and Love) - Oldboy - Three Extremes-Cut - Sympathy for Lady Vengeance - I'm a Cyborg but That's OK - Thirst - (Night Fishing) - (Day Trip) - The Handmaiden
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