Indie Roundup: ‘Stoker’

If Wes Anderson and Edward Gorey got together to make “Shadow of a Doubt,” that movie would be “Stoker.” Of course, it wasn’t directed by either Anderson or Gorey, but by auteur Park Chan-wook – the guy who famously had his protagonist devour a live octopus for his breakout, Cannes-winning hit movie “Old Boy.” Park made a name for himself in his native South Korea with a series of brilliant and increasingly baroque movies about cruelty, lust, and vengeance that always successfully rode the line between spine-tingling suspense and overwrought insanity. For his first English-language movie – which stars Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman – Park mines very similar territory, even if the script was penned by “Prison Break” star Wentworth Miller.

[Related: Indie Roundup: ‘No’]

The film centers on India Stoker (Wasikowska), a quiet, whey-faced lass who favors monochromatic dresses and saddle shoes and who, at the beginning of the movie, learns that her father died under mysterious circumstances. She lives unhappily in a large estate that oozes old money, with her lonely, sexually frustrated mother, Evelyn (Kidman), and a room full of stuffed birds. Then her suave though exceedingly creepy Uncle Charlie (Goode) shows up. Though he flirts shameless with Evelyn, his real interest is in her daughter. India, in turn, becomes increasingly confident that Uncle Charlie killed her father. Soon the quiet mother-daughter cold war devolves into a hothouse of jealousy, betrayal, and general psychological maladjustment.

Yet this movie isn’t ultimately about Uncle Charlie’s increasingly overt proclivity for homicide, but about India’s burgeoning sexuality. Though the film is chock-full of Hitchcockian tropes, this movies is at heart a coming of age story – albeit an incredibly screwed-up one. In fact, female carnality and murder are all but equated in “Stoker.” In a show-stopping shower scene, India realizes that instead of being disturbed by a murder perpetrated right in front of her, she is intensely aroused. By the end of the film, when she loses her girlish saddle – shoes for stiletto heels, she becomes, quite literally, a femme fatale.

[Related: Indie Roundup: ‘The Taste of Money’]

Park masterfully creates the movie’s off-kilter atmosphere through elegant tracking shots, unusual framing, and some deeply unnerving insert shots, like a spider disappearing up a skirt, and a blood-soaked pencil. Some might accuse Park of hitting the movie’s none-too-subtle Freudian subtext a bit too hard, but for me, the movie’s sheer visual bravura overwhelmed such trifling problems. “Stoker” is meant to be experienced, not picked at. This movie isn’t for everyone. If you find Wes Anderson too twee and David Lynch too weird, give this flick a miss. But for the rest of you, this movie is a deliciously trashy fever dream of adolescent longings told by a master of his craft.

Follow me on Twitter (@jonccrow)

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March 2013

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