‘Stoker’ (2013), where even the secrets have secrets.

5 Mar

StokerNeither a biopic of the legendary Irish author nor a thing which stokes, Stoker is actually the American debut of acclaimed Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park, the man previously responsible for such movies as 2009’s amazing Thirst. Mia Wasikowska stars as India Stoker, a sullen high-school kid whose father dies mysteriously on her eighteenth birthday. That same day, her hitherto-unknown and exceptionally creepy uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to stay, and he is uncomfortably flirtatious with her mother (Nicole Kidman). It’s not long before more people start to mysteriously (but stylishly) vanish into thin air.

There is a lot of ‘visual poetry’ going on in this movie and some may find the sheer amount of nuttiness a bit overbearing. Hair turns into a flurry of rushes as it is brushed, while symbolism abounds in the form of eggs, shoes and squirt guns. What meanings these images endeavour to convey are left for the viewer to decide; suffice to say, I was left stumped. This level of highfalutin conceptualisation, coupled with the needlessly long mutual stares in which characters both undress and murder each other with their eyes, gives the film a very classy demeanour, one which no doubt appeals to fans of ‘cinema’ as well as the casual movie-goer.

All of this aforementioned focus on the aesthetic qualities of Stoker only goes to mask its most damning flaw: the script. What would already have been a fairly dull and uninteresting plot is only made appear even more redundant in contrast to the visual furore happening on screen. The big reveal at the end is plain dumb, and perhaps I’m just slow but parts of it genuinely made absolutely no sense. Why does India only wear the same pair of shoes (though progressively larger sizes, natch) her entire life? I honestly have no idea, and I suspect that the movie itself is equally clueless in this regard.

One of the better, but still quite odd, scenes of the film.

One of the better, but still quite odd, scenes of the film.

However, the poor script is also overshadowed by the great acting on display. Mia Wasikowska plays the brooding, quiet and vaguely misanthropic teen to perfection; she is a hybrid of Annie McEnroe’s character from Beetlejuice and the girl from The Ring. Nicole Kidman (who, incidentally, looks great in the ‘fiery redhead with secrets’ look) gives her best performance in years here, as she portrays an aloof yet tormented mother who regrets ignoring her only daughter throughout the years. But the real star of the show is Charlie: Matthew Goode is as horrifying as he is charming; the impeccably-dressed gent who insidiously sneaks into India’s life is fascinatingly and impressively discomforting.

I wonder if there is a certain genre-specific flaw here which is inherent in much ‘world’ cinema, but remains dormant thanks to the language barrier. I get the feeling that had this movie been in Korean, French or any other foreign language, I’d have enjoyed it much more. Such films are as subtle as they are subtitled, because directors often rely on both dedicated physical acting as well as noticeable aesthetic flourishes in order to appeal to solely English-speaking audiences. Now that we can actually understand what’s coming out of their mouths (for the most part), it’s as if a certain element of what makes world cinema ‘work’ has been lost in translation.

However, we must take Stoker for what it is: an American art-house drama/mystery/horror thing that is without a doubt an example of ‘style over substance’. Very pretty and with great acting, Stoker is a bit of a mess plot-wise.

Simon says: worth seeing, but not hearing.

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