This is a year when Hollywood goes shopping to South Korea.PSY’s Ganganam Style is already an edifice of global pop culture and 2013 is the year when the top three Korean directors Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho and Kim Ji-woon make their Hollywood debut.Stoker is a sinister and a very stylish chamber piece from Park Chan-wook, bordering on the designer.The cast of characters is very small, just three lead characters who spend the whole film circling each other in a beautiful mansion decorated with a minimalist fastidiousness.Each shot is so carefully framed, you can imagine the exhaustion of the body doubles of the stars helping the camera department compose the shots to perfection.This is easily one of the more anticipated films of the year as it marks the English language debut of the man who made the Korean cult vengeance flick, Oldboy( currently ranked 84th on IMDB Top 250).
Stoker looks at a very rich family living in an unnamed American small town, where they are well known enough and hated enough for the 18 year old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), to be the butt of rude variation of her surname.Her father Richard, has just died on her 18th birthday, in a mysterious car accident, and she has withdrawn into a shell.Her mother Evelyn(Nichole Kidman), who felt shut of the lives of the hunting obsessed father daughter duo, is looking to kick start her love life again.On cue arrives Charles( Matthew Goode) the long lost adventurer and explorer younger brother of Richard. We first see him at the funeral, standing at a distance, silhouetted like a Hitchcockian figure.We know clearly that that man will not be good for the young India.
As the film progresses we see disturbing signs, Evelyn and Charles getting uncomfortably cosy,Charles being eerily sweet and accommodating to India, a housekeeper disappearing and an old Aunt who turns up to have a heart to heart with Evelyn, being thwarted.During the first 15 minutes of the film I was acutely aware of this being a motion picture, the camera was not unobtrusive but rather like the guiding hand of a confident director who knows his reputation supports his grandstanding.As the film progresses we get used to this very sexy slinky style and start getting involved with the characters.The plot treads timeworn material but the treatment is Mr Parks own.He gives us a shower scene that is chilling and disturbing and Charles quickly confirms our worst fears about him.What is interesting is his manner of doing what is expected of him.There is not a warm moment in the film.
While Goode is definitely a find, as much as an established actor can be found, and Ms Wasikowska is a young lady whose internal mechanics remain mostly impenetrable, it is Nichole Kidman, who is the real casting coup.As the very rich, bored and stilted Evelyn, she looks the part.The efforts of Ms Kidman to remain frozen in time, by the help of whatever cutting edge cosmetic science she has harnessed, translate on the screen into a designer soullessness that adds to the chilly remoteness of the film.
Stoker dwells quite a bit on the hunting rituals of India and her father and the consequences will no doubt add a tiny new dimension to the gun debate in USA where hunting is the holy cow that even Barrack Obama finds obligatory to endorse, by releasing pictures of himself with a smoking gun, aviators in place.It also creates a setting completely cut off from the rest of the dirty messy world and gives us characters who exist in a moral vacuum that drives them to commit ultraviolet acts without the least fear of consequences.
The cinematography is dazzling and the undoubted highlight of the film. Stoker contains some astonishing images which have been meticulously created, worthy of hanging on the wall as high art.Stoker is edited tightly and has some engaging cuts.The sound design, costumes and production design are impeccable and raise the craft of this film to a new level.The interiors of the mansion where the film is shot, is dressed with extraordinary attention to detail.This is the finesse I had expected from a recent film called Beautiful Creatures but in complete contrast to the title, the film tried to be cinematically ugly, driving me out of the theater midway through its mess.
This film takes off on the premise of “Shadow of Doubt“ by Hitchcock and Mr Park says in a recent New York Times interview that he tries to bend the conventions of a genre and subvert the genre in the process.Here he makes a new kind of horror thriller.Surely fans of Oldboy had higher expectation of Stoker but Mr Park is content to pour old wine in a new designer bottle lovingly crafted by him.The product is smooth and indulgent and the arrival of Mr Park in Hollywood is good news for the fanboys.