Thursday, March 7, 2013

STOKER (2013)

Written by Wentworth Miller

Directed by Park Chan-wook

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. March 1. 2013  9:20PM

Park Chan-wook is the acclaimed and highly influential South Korean filmmaker who is best known for three of his most popular, "Old Boy", "Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance" and "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" that has been referred to as the Vengeance Trilogy. These films, commanding a mesmerizing visual style and shocking violence, are in various stages of being remade for an English-speaking audience but the director himself has delivered his first feature in a language other than his own native tongue.

Revenge plays an important component in "Stoker", a well-plotted but fairly standard mystery thriller that is elevated due to the highly, inventive camera work, off-kilter framing, non-linear editing and unconventional story-telling. This film is busy, as your eyes (and mind) are worked overtime by all of the strange and twisted imagery but unlike his previous works, all of the camera trickery feels more like a distraction as none of it is enough to properly draw you into this story. "Stoker" lacks any true suspense, emotion or passion as if something was lost in the translation.

India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), a young girl of wealth and privilege, was always a teenager with a sullen, haunted demeanor but after the recent loss of her beloved father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney) who perished under mysterious circumstances, she has become even more withdrawn. Her mother, Evelyn (played with usual brilliance by Nicole Kidman) is beside herself due to her estranged husband's death and the difficult relationship with her daughter which has deteriorated further. So now, she is rarely seen without a glass of wine in her hand to help drown her sorrows.

A stranger arrives at their doorstep in the form of Charlie (Matthew Goode), the younger brother of Richard. Although he had never been previously mentioned and was unable to ever make contact due to his extensive travels abroad however, Charlie is now ready to become a part of the family during their time of need. The lonely Evelyn welcomes him, inviting the handsome, long-lost relative to stay as long as he would like but India is far more cautious as she keeps her distance. Determined to win her affections, Charlie relentlessly pursues his niece, using his icy charm to connect with her in a way no one else has been able. In turn, he draws India out of her shell, awakening her carnal desires and a dark ferocity that leads to some jeopardous trouble for some high-school bullies who tormented her because of her quirky nature.

At times, "Stoker" brings to mind the work of David Lynch with it's offbeat rhythms, a perverse, sexual tension and the vivid dreamlike images. Although this film is far more lucid than anything that director has ever crafted but what Mr. Lynch is able to communicate successfully, like in "Blue Velvet", is a sense of warmth and sentiment with his distinctive eccentric vision which is lacking in "Stoker". Hitchcock seems to have been an influence to the script written by actor, Wentworth Miller (under the alias, "Ted Foulke"), who you might recall from the television show, "Prison Break" and was voted one of the ten best unproduced screenplays back in 2010. This story enters in to a darker, more erotic area that Hitch could barely even hint at back in his day but doesn't feel particularly innovative as it uses the classic horror formula while adding very little to be stimulating.

I found it slightly amusing that the main characters in this U.S. based story are played by non-Americans as Mr. Goode is British while the ladies (including an appearance by recent Oscar nominee, Jacki Weaver who pops up briefly as a very concerned aunt) are all Aussies but despite that minor quibble, these actors do not fail to be completely convincing in their roles. Ms Wasikowska has been building quite an impressive resume with some memorable recent turns in such films as "Jane Eyre", "The Kids Are Alright" and the title character in Tim Burton's vibrant version of "Alice In Wonderland". Here, the young actress brings a quiet, creepy intensity to her part as the troubled teenager while conveying a feverish passion buried inside, unsure of how to properly express. It seems like she is following in Ms Kidman's footsteps, who has had a long, successful career of playing her share of edgy, whacked-out characters. While many of her films might not have always worked commercially, the actress has always managed to stand out with a fiercely committed performance as she has done here. Although he comes across as quite dashing but there is something not quite right about Uncle Charlie and Mr. Goode perfectly reveals a sense of danger that is barely contained behind his faint smile and glassy-eyed stare.

While more muted than what is usually expected by this filmmaker, "Stoker" still delivers a moody atmosphere with plenty of lurid chills, thanks to some lively performances but would have benefited greatly by digging further past the surface to capture more of an actual human element to these stylishly, gruesome proceedings.