Beauty and horror beget ‘Stoker’
MANILA, Philippines - Of all the movies in theaters right now, “Stoker” is the most intriguing.
That it appears to be set mostly inside an antiquated mansion, revolves around a trio of creepy lead characters and stars Nicole Kidman might even bring back memories of the supernatural horror flick “The Others.” (So, no, “Stoker” is not a truncated biography of Irish author Bram Stoker circa the writing of his 1897 opus Dracula the way “Hitchcock” was a brief bio of the horror director circa the making of “Psycho.”)
Horrifying things do abound in “Stoker” but they are more ghastly than ghostly, more psychological than spiritual. And it’s all presented through imagery of such exquisiteness that elevates the film to a level of entertainment far loftier than horror fans get treated to.
Credit for “Stoker’s” creative splendor goes largely to its Korean director, Park Chan-Wook, who makes his English-language and full-fledged Hollywood debut following a slew of made-in-Korea films that include “Oldboy,” the 2004 Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Prix winner. (Due out this year is a US remake of “Oldboy” by Quentin Tarantino’s moviemaking nemesis, Spike Lee.)
Park, working with cinematographer and frequent associate Chung-Hoon Chung, has earned a global cult following due to his knack for visuals that tell a compelling story almost all their own—such images often simultaneously ludicrous or harrowing while being stunning in look and execution.
Park manages to carry over his signature crazy-beautiful dynamic to “Stoker,” and even those who will be introduced to the filmmaker’s style only now is certain to at least be fascinated, more than they might be with the story.
Watch the 'Stoker' trailer here:
To be fair, “Stoker’s” basic tale is interesting in its own right. Written by debuting screenwriter Wentworth Miller—best known as Michael Scofield of the TV drama “Prison Break”—“Stoker” tells of India Stoker, an 18-year-old girl living with her mother Evie, whose unknown uncle Charlie suddenly joins the Stoker household right after the death of Richard, who was Charlie’s brother and India’s father. India suspects something amiss, if not sinister, about her newfound uncle, and the story essentially unravels both how she might be right and how this affects her blossoming adulthood.
The story is not entirely fresh, and “Stoker” has, in fact, gotten comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt” and might even get lumped with the more pedestrian, 2009 remake of the proxy-parent chiller “The Stepfather.”
What fishes “Stoker” out of any narrative shortcomings are primarily Park and Chung’s shared aesthetic sensibilities and measured ways of heightening tension—this time complemented by the inspired production design by Thérèse Deprez, the rarely intrusive musical score by Clint Mansell and the subdued performances of Australians Mia Wasikowska (here resembling TV actress-host Sara Gilbert) and Nicole Kidman and Englishman Matthew Goode. (Writer-director Harmony Korine, who scripted the infamous “Kids,” makes a fleeting cameo.)
The entire collaboration results in carefully considered, even lyrical visuals and breathtaking atmospherics that are elegant yet provocative, jarring yet compelling, even when the proceedings become too grisly for comfort. And boy, are there a handful of scenes that can readily inspire the squeamish to promptly walk out of the theater in disgust.
Yet Park is no provocateur for provocation’s sake. In coming up with films that are altogether audacious, beautiful and horrific, and in “Stoker’s” specific tone of being hushed yet unsettling, sophisticated yet gruesome, it’s as if Park is holding a mirror to reflect the perverse co-existence of good and evil in this world.
Amid its unsettling stillness and mesmerizing disquiet, amid a tone of almost otherworldly antiquity with hardly any sign of 21st-century trappings (look, Ma, no computers), “Stoker” likewise manages to make the damning take on familial inheritance, of how a forebear’s ills can influence the future of younger kin, and also makes the cynical implication that, in allowing the nefarious to take over, heads will roll, perhaps literally.
That is not the most comforting thing to hear, but I, for one, appreciate that such a thesis gets presented on the big screen in the first place. “Stoker” may not be Park Chan-Wook’s best film to date, but it can only be an ominous sign of even more enthralling things to come. - Rappler.com
‘Stoker,’ rated R-16 by the MTRCB without cuts, is now showing in Philippine cinemas.