Stoker is the new film from Oldboy's Park Chan-wook and it is the very reason why we love going to the movies. Bring a sandwich...this review's gonna be a doozy!
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I don't remember when I last saw a horror film this rich and beautiful. Oh, wait...that's right...Kim Ji-Woon's I Saw the Devil back in 2010. While Stoker doesn't pack quite the punch that Ji-Woon's masterpiece did, it is still a film worthy of top 10 lists. A masterpiece all its own with a world of depth and erotic revelations.
If you're familiar with genre film...then you will know who Park Chan-wook is. He is the South Korean director responsible for films like Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Thirst and the aforementioned classic...Oldboy. So, the man is pretty much known for creating provocative films full of color and black humor. The kind of humor that creeps under the skin and leaves you with a nervous smile to match the feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Well, he's back with a stunner of a film utilizing some of the best camerawork that long time cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung has done. Stoker is cinematic art at its highest level. This is a world where long flowing hair seamlessly transforms into long flowing fields of grass and shoe boxes become works of art. Hell...even the opening credits mesmerize more than the entire running time of most films. I'd love to take a stroll through the story boards and see the process of creating this gorgeous film. And yet...Chan-wook does expert work of holding all the eye candy together and creating a beautifully twisted story to go along with the poetry of the imagery.
The cast makes it all work together perfectly. It's not simply acting to engage its audience...it is transcendent and organic. Every performance is a new clue...an open window into the soul of this film and at the center of it all is Australian born actress Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) holding the entire film together with her performance as just 18 India Stoker...a young girl at the crossroads of her own innocence.
We open on the death of India's father (Dermot Mulroney) and the introduction of the always distant uncle Charlie. The grieving widow is played by the always stunning Nicole Kidman. Wasikowska's India is the embodiment of sulking beauty. She captures the sentiment much better than late 80's Wynona Ryder and is more of a genuine talent than wannabe's like Kristen Stewart. And when Charlie enters her life, she exhibits an awakening more in line with Hitchcockian darkness than teenage awkwardness.
Speaking of uncle Charlie, Mathew Goode is a fresh Norman Bates for a new generation, never once revealing his cards until the fleeting moments of the film. He does a fine job of channeling the classic malevolence and refined sexiness of Jerry Dandridge for the role of Charlie Stoker. He's the devil in khakis and v-neck sweaters with fangs hidden in his awkward up-to-no good smile.
I suppose I should mention that Harmony Korine (Gummo and the upcoming Spring Breakers) is in this. Not sure how he managed to show up in a film as enormously talent-laden as this...but, there he is.
I don't wanna talk too much more about the film for fear of spoiling its main elements. Everything in the film is meaningful and not one frame is wasted. Every scene is rich of sexual energy...never feeling overt in execution. And artfully careful camera placement reveals and exhausts in the same blink. Nothing is taken for granted in this morbid tale of murder and love. Nothing feels like this film...and you should treat yourself to a gem like this in the midst of unnecessary sequels and plastic remakes. Fuck...watch it for the shower scene alone (trust me).
Stoker is my favorite film of 2013, so far. It is deviant high art told exceptionally well within the shadows of the world that Chan-wook creates with performances that resonate well beyond the closing credits. Seek it out in a dark theater and appreciate its provocative beauty while it is still in limited release.
Thanks for reading,