March 27, 2013

Stoker Is Wicked Good Entertainment

Movie Pick

STOKER (R) Fans of South Korean director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Thirst) who worried that his virtuosic stylistic formalism would be diluted in his first English-language movie have nothing to fear. Stoker establishes its spell from the opening credits sequence and never betrays its sinister, hyper-real fairytale mood throughout its running time. It's a horror movie, but one filtered through Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt

After the tragic death of her father (Dermot Mulroney), India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) feels her life unravel more when her mysterious Uncle Charlie (Mathew Goode) enters her life. Charlie comforts his brother's widow, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), and then zeros in on India as his object of attraction. India is both repulsed and intrigued by his attention. It quickly becomes clear that there's something deeply wrong with Charlie. The moody India, however, is not well, either. Blood flows, secrets are revealed, and liberation from the tyranny of family is offered at a brutal price.

Although there's plenty of tension in Stoker and the performances from Wasikowska, Goode and Kidman are all excellent, albeit cold and restrained, the movie's real star is Park's style. His approach to the material exudes menace, although with an elegant touch. Every scene, edit and music cue is immaculately designed and conveys a real sense of artistry that elevates the otherwise pedestrian script (written by Wentworth Miller) to a completely different level. This is arguably a lesser work for the director, but it's, nevertheless, brilliantly realized. One of the major standouts is Wasikowska, who plays India as an expressionless bystander in her own life, caught between being a girl and a woman. Many of the scenes between her and Goode are delectably unnerving. However, India is no naïve teenager. Her fascination with Charlie, the most patient of predators, and his not-so-hidden dark side propels her into uncharted territory both sexually and morally. And when she finally leaps into the unknown, Stoker fearlessly transgresses as well. This is far from the brilliance of Park's vengeance trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance), but it's wicked good entertainment, nevertheless.