Stoker is a chilling and profoundly disturbing thriller about grief and wanton desire. It is also one a few great new movies of 2013. I dare you to embrace it.
This is the English-language directorial debut of South Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park. He became an international sensation through his bloodthirsty revenge trilogy, in particular the 2003 crime film Oldboy (now being Americanized by Spike Lee for release in October).
Fortunately -- because this rarely happens with Asian filmmakers when they are imported but straightjacketed by Hollywood -- the British-American production Stoker is absolutely right for his breakout film in English. While Stoker is not as bloody and twisted as Park's Korean films, it is plenty weird enough. There are also emotional and psychological undercurrents that are just as complex.
Meanwhile, unlike many foreign directors -- especially visual stylists as accomplished as Park -- he obviously understands the subtle nuances of the English language. Stoker has brilliant and even savage dialogue from actor-writer Wentworth Miller (best known for Prison Break) and his collaborator Erin Cressida Wilson (who wrote the deliciously diabolical Chloe for Canada's Atom Egoyan). But there is subtlety here, too, that Park embraces. Precise shades of gray make every character even more evocative than any plot summary could offer.
But here goes the plot stuff, anyway, without spoilers: Filmed on location in Tennessee, Stoker is the story of an American family, the Stokers, whose members are all unhinged. India (Mia Wasikowska) acts out her distress over the death of her father through Goth Girl shows of defiance. We love her instantly, in part because she is so eccentric and caustic, in part because Wasikowska is a brilliant young actress who can take us to dark places without shutting off all the lights. Wasikowska is clearly the class act, although everyone else is excellent.
Surrounding India as the central character is a rogues gallery of characters. Mom (Nicole Kidman) is a sex-crazed savage who clearly is unfit as a parent. Grandmother (Jacki Weaver) has her own issues. Mysterious uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) is too perfect to believe. Dad (Dermot Mulroney) is seen in flashbacks. This dead guy is the most sane person in the family. But no one is dull.
Park's stylistic flourishes are all here: Hyper-realistic settings; precise camera movements that control our perspective; character development that fits together like a giant puzzle; close-ups into characters' faces that chill to the bone. Nothing happens in a Park film for no reason. Everything in the craft lends itself to the effect that he wants the story to have on us at any given second.
As a result, the filmmaking is at an Oscar-calibre level, from the cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung to the production design by Therese DePrez to the musical score by Clint Mansell and so on. Park is a true master who works with some of the best in the business -- bringing out their best in turn.
That leaves us to react to the events of Stoker as if they are more real than reality. That is a terrifying idea in this case.
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