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by Garon Cockrell
Movie Review: Stoker
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The senses take front and center in Stoker.  Director Chan-wook Park makes full use of the visual and aural. Those most important for any predator.  The movie stalks its prey, taking its time, knowing exactly what it's doing, showing and telling what you need to know in order to think you are safe before its inevitable attack on the psyche in this deliciously demented thriller.





Not many things go right for India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) from the start.  On her 18th birthday, she loses her father in a car accident, causes unknown.  Her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) is left to take care of her even though she can barley stand her, let alone understand her.  And an uncle she never knew existed, Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), decides to pay an extended visit and play house with the family.  When India starts to suspect that her uncle might have ulterior motives, the truth begins to unravel as she becomes increasingly infatuated with him and he with her as they might have more in common than she ever thought and that he's letting onto.











Awkward family dinner staring contest...


South Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park and Prison Break's Wentworth Miller, who penned the script, seem to complement each other in their art.  Both have a knack for the grisly and violent.  This being Park's first English language film, it is a great transitional film for the director best known for his "vengeance trilogy," most notably Oldboy, which deal with themes of regret, rediscovery, and, of course, revenge.











Oldboy - brings new meaning to "Hammer Time"


Miller does a lot of things right in the his first produced screenplay.  The best thing being the perspective of the story, all through the eyes of India, this adolescent coming into adulthood.  There are very few scenes that we don't learn new information as she learns it, keeping the audience in a state of suspended tension.











Yeah, I broke out of prison to write a screenplay


In a bit of foreshadowing, the movie introduces us to India through a whisper of a voice-over: "my ears hear what others cannot hear. Small, faraway things, people cannot normally see are visible to me.  These senses are the fruits of a lifetime of longing, longing to be rescued, to be completed.  Just as the skirt needs the wind below, I'm not formed of things that are of myself alone.  I wear my father's belt tied around my mother's blouse and shoes which are from my uncle.  This is me.  Just as a flower does not choose its color, we are not responsible for what we come to be.  Only once you realize this do you become free.  And to become adult is to become free."





What sounds like poetry and irrelevant becomes the spine of a story that works on many levels.  It's a coming of age story, but one that rejects all notion of personal responsibility.  This is seen through the characters of Uncle Charlie and India, who are reflections of each other, in different stages of their lives.











Because I couldn't find a picture of Glenn Beck


The film asks the questions: are we just a combination of what came before us, "the father's belt, the mother's blouse, the uncle's shoes" or is it about the choices we make?  By the end of the movie, you are left to ponder these questions because contrary to India's opening lines, her actions throughout the film say otherwise.  The ending is as open as the field she is standing in, floundering in ambivalence.  The script is not without gaping flaws, of course, like how did the uncle even know about India in the first place?  Why were the uncle's letters stashed away in the father's desk, especially if the father was trying to keep Charlie away from India?  Who left the birthday gifts every year for India? (You will know what I'm talking about after you watch it).  But for all it's flaws, Miller's distinctive voice keeps you guessing, surprises you, and seriously disturbs you at times.  It is not a film for the light hearted.











Dude, it's called an Iphone


Yet, as much as Miller has his fingerprints on it, this film is Park's.  His style is imprinted on the screen.  The realistic violence.  The long shots showing one continuous action.  The sexual tension imbued in the most non-sexual situations.  Park brings us into the world of India Stoker through the help of excellent cinematography, sound mixing and editing, and very creative editing.  The grotesque is beautifully painted on his canvas and your eyes will not look away even if you want to.





Adding another layer to the eerie atmosphere of the Stoker's world is Clint Mansell's haunting score.  Like many of his scores before, they are heavy in piano and string arrangements, that convey despair and destruction.  Piercing like a bullet in the cranium, shrills stab your ears like only he knows how without making it sound just like noise.  It heightens the tension, like he did in Black Swan or Requiem for a Dream or The Fountain.  Mansell is definitely one of the best minimalist composers that adds so much more to a movie.











Listen to it on Spotify and buy it. 


The film definitely has some great actors in it, but the one who steals the show is Matthew Goode. His portrayal of Uncle Charlie up until the major reveal (no spoilers here) is so understated, that his switch is unnerving.  You would never believe he's capable of doing the atrocious things he's doing when you first meet him, but by the end of the film, you've never been more horrified in his childlike and carefree outlook, incomprehensible of his actions, the same outlook he had on the fateful day he made snow angels in spring as a child - probably the most disturbing scene in the movie.











Snow Angels...another psycho in the making.


Mia Wasikowska has a plain jane attribute to her that sells her innocence very effectively, that a lot of the sexuality she radiates from her as she enters adulthood shows how versatile she can be.  You forget she ever played Alice in the horrible Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.  Just with the heavy breathing, legs crossing, eyes swaying reactions to the every move her Uncle Charlie makes around her as they play the piano together is hotter than any sex scene one will probably find in any HBO show.











Was that as good for you as it was for me, Uncle Charlie?


This leads me to Nicole Kidman, who I just haven't really cared for in a lot of her roles in recent movies.  In a sense, she starts off as the villain and some how manages to become the most sympathetic character in the film by the end.  Unfortunately, the dynamic between India and Evelyn is overshadowed by that of Uncle Charlie's relationship.  Kidman's character just doesn't have as an important role as Uncle Charlie in the development of India's character, so she gets boring stick.  Kidman manages to do a great job in creating a deeply flawed individual whose depth probably wasn't any deeper than shallow and selfish.  Like I said, somehow she is the true victim of the film by the end.  Kudos, Kidman, kudos.















Would you like some crazy eyes with that venom I just spit at you, daughter dearest?


Stoker might be the first film that both Chan-wook Park and Wentworth Miller worked on, but if this is the fruit of their labors, then they should grow more fruits.  A modern cautionary tale of what happens when secrets stay buried for too long or taboo topics are avoided for the sake of not "disturbing the family."











No, mom, I'll just curl up and surround myself with shoeboxes because..... I'M CRAZY!










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