Sunday, March 3, 2013

Stoker

♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney) dies in a car accident during daughter India’s (Mia Wasikowska) 18th birthday, leaving her to care for her emotionally unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). All these events further coincide with the arrival of Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), her father’s brother whom they are meeting for the very first time. Enigmatic as he is, both mother and daughter quickly get infatuated with him, despite the suspicions that they have regarding his motives, which they are quick to brush aside. What does Uncle Charlie really want? Is he a vengeful ghost? A psycho uncle who badly needs a hug? A figment of imagination? Her real father? No, I am not telling. You have to see this one for yourself and I could only promise that you would not be left disappointed.

The story itself is a bit sick, well, that is if you ponder on the oddity involved in it, some traces of contrivance here and there, as well as the defiance of well-placed social norms. What would really amaze you, though, is the way everything is filmed, which is just saying that the director did an amazing job. The method of storytelling easily makes up for any misgiving about the story. The use of various camera techniques is something not usually found in Hollywood, which further highlights the brilliance of renowned Korean director Park Chan Wook. In a way, it is as though you are watching a Korean suspense thriller inexplicably acted by Hollywood stars.

Acting. Wasikowska’s portrayal is reminiscent of Saoirse Ronan’s Hanna, what with the standoffish demeanor and some similarities in terms of characterization. Wearing old fashioned clothes that make cinema horror muses like Carrie and all those strange pale ghost wannabes freaky, India unpredictability will scare you more than her eccentricity You simply would not know what she would do next. Well, come to think of it, this is not true because the director gives out many hints. What we mean here is if you imagine her as a real person and not just some odd fictional character.

Goode’s Uncle Charlie is also creepy but in a mysterious kind of way. If you have already met Anne Rice’s Lasher, perhaps you would agree that he would be the closest comparison in terms of the character’s mysterious appeal. On the other hand, it is Kidman who gives at least some semblance of normalcy to it all, being the fragile and washed up mother who would rather compete with than support her daughter. And we are saying this because the other two characters who share most of the screen time are just too weird. To be fair to Evelyn, she might seem to be nothing but an unstable bimbo of a mother that a kid would be unlucky to have, but thanks to Kidman’s portrayal you could actually see a different side of her which is that of a grieving mother who ended up that way for not being the favorite parent. Hence, her rather bizarre conduct. It looks like Kidman's career is in full throttle once again after her post-Oscar slump.

You would know when a horror or suspense movie is just relying on cheap tactics to scare you. That is so not the aim of this movie. Instead, the director opts for something that will make you sit back and appreciate what cinema, as an art form, could offer. The director’s keen attention to detail is prevalent through the different camera techniques used as well as the mastery of sound effects that is not just for show.

There are lots of juxtapositions that are craftily presented, some notable examples of which are: when transition is achieved by juxtaposing Evelyn’s hair and a field of corn or wheat or hay or whatever that was; India stretching her limbs on the bed following the cadence of the ticking of the clock; a similar flashback scene which serves as some sort of foreshadowing; and that scene where India turns on the lights in the basement and allows them to swing back and forth, while the faces of Evelyn and Charlie are juxtaposed following the same swinging motion along with the resulting lighting that comes with such movement.

Stoker is not the kind of suspense thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat out of excitement. Instead, it captivates you by playing on your curiosity, by luring you into the universe of these three individuals through one intriguing bit after the other. You will be left asking questions and would stay until the end to get those answers, none of which could really be considered as disappointing. Kudos, Wentworth Miller, for coming up with a screenplay like this. Yes, that very same actor from Prison Break. Who knew he could write!

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