s t o k e r
1st March 2013
15th March 2013
To become adult is to become free. That quote is at the heart of Stoker, Park Chan-wook's glossy gothic coming of age story where nothing is quite as it seems.
We join mysterious teen India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) and her shallow, vain mother, Evie (Nicole Kidman) as they discover the death of India's beloved father in a terrible road accident. This catastrophic event heralds the arrival of mysterious handsome Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) and with it a whole cacophony of family secrets. Other family members come and mysteriously go whilst Uncle Charlie gets his feet more and more under the dysfunctional family table, growing close to both matriarch and daughter so it becomes a bizarre almost incestuous triangle of mixed emotions. Family members who come too close begin disappearing and the closer India looks into Charlie's glossed veneer the more cracks appear and the truth slowly begins to unravel.
The difficult mother daughter relationship has provided plenty of fuel for cinematic fires, Laura Dern and Dianne Ladd in Wild at Heart, Faye Dunaway and Dianne Scarwidd as the Crawfords in Mommie Dearest and erm.. Amy Peohler and Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls. OK that last one is a stretch, I just love that movie and that relationship. Now we have the glorious angst ridden relationship of India and Evie Stoker in what seems to be a mutually (un)beneficial relationship. One of the opening images of Evie and India side by side at the funeral is so striking. Mother and daughter so very different in every way. At one point Evie says to India “Who are you? Aren't you supposed to love me?' Any love that India did have within her seems to have gone to her late father, their bond and their beloved hunting trips. That love now seems to be transferring to Uncle Charlie, provider of her beloved shoe packages and awkward almost incestuous moments. The bond between Charlie and India is one born of blood. They have a strange sparkle in both sets of dark blue eyes, ethereal, like a spider fixing on it's prey. 'We don't need to be friends' India tells Charlie over yet another painfully strained family dinner, 'We're family'.
Stoker is riddled with Hitchcockian themes. There are obvious comparisons to A Shadow of a Doubt's sinister Uncle Charlie coming to reform a bond with his innocent niece; more literal are the dead birds, shower scene and Kidman's femme fatale (although she isn't quite a blonde). Park was originally slated to direct Hitchcock (I'd love to see who else was on a list of directors that included Park and Sasha Gervasi). Park has also previously stated Hitchcock was the main reason he started directing.
This is a quiet film. The script is strangely sparse and Park uses these silences to invade the silence with other noises. India rolling eggs back and forth on the table at her father's wake is deafening. Crickets are overwhelmingly loud. Humans, by comparison, are very quiet, moving about the beautiful house silently, separately, each with their own secrets. India doesn't smile much in this movie. She barely smiles at all. The only time we see something approaching happiness or joy is in the shower scene and at the very end. India's face has a permanent blankness that Mia has somehow managed to make interesting. It's a fascinating performance and Mia is mesmerising. The transformation from angry, insular teenager reading funeral books to the dangerous and powerful young woman is immense fun to watch. Nicole Kidman is in fine melodramatic form as Evie, she's clearly having fun with this role and Matthew Goode is a nice surprise as Uncle Charlie, managing to pull off handsome and creepy with just the right balance.
The piano is a sexual instrument in Uncle Charlie's courtship of both mother and daughter, at one point India's duet with Charlie leaves her in a somewhat 'sated' state. I adore Clint Mansell so was pleased that he had created another effective and haunting piece of music to accompany the Phillip Glass set pieces.
Stoker is a feast for the eyes. Park used his usual Korean cinematographer Chung hoon-Chung but his new relationships with production design of Therese DePrez and costume designers Kurt and Bart feel like they were forged long ago, everything flows together in this blue/green world that these characters inhabit. Costume is an integral part of this story. The shoes. India's father's belt. India's costume in particular tells a story she transforms throughout the film. At the start she wears stylish but drab clothing that covers her up and, like her personality, says nothing about who she is, she also wears outfits made up of items from her family. Her father's belt, her mother's shirt, the shoes her uncle has given her. The same shoes she has worn since a baby. The sartorial shift isn't too huge as she evolves, it's subtle but felt. Hemlines rise, fabrics become sheer; it's beautifully done. A favourite image of mine is India laying down surrounded by all the shoes she has been given by Uncle Charlie over the years, all identical, all in the same box with the same yellow ribbon tied around them. The last pair of shoes from Uncle Charlie is a pair of crocodile skin, predatory Christian Louboutins. Highly inappropriate and perfect for India's final rite of passage. Crocodile because she is a hunter, high heels because she is of age. Pointed toe. A seductress. A woman. An adult. Free.
We are not on anyone's side in Stoker. It's not until the end of the movie that we see anyone approaching anything that seems like humanity. It's an fascinating foray for Park Chan-wook into the world of American film making. Meticulously designed and marvellous in it's fakery, Stoker is not to be taken too seriously, it's a smokin' one night stand whose scent remains on your pillows for quite some time.