STOKER (Park Chan-wook, 2013)
Expect some twisted scheme in a Park Chan-wook movie. In fact, expect some very elaborate twisted scheme, but in STOKER however, you wouldn't guess who does the scheming until the very last bit. Brilliantly written by Wentworth Miller (yes, the PRISON BREAK guy and the runaway guy from the Mariah Carey video) and carefully staged by Chan-wook, STOKER is a suspense film so endlessly riddled with clues that the experience of piecing them altogether is worth the watch alone.
India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is suddenly without a father after the unfateful car accident of Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney). Left in the care of her distant mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), things go for the worse upon the arrival of Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). India is quick to notice that there is far deeper connection between her mom and Uncle Charlie than just familial bond. Evelyn acts as if no death has occurred in the family.
India becomes increasingly distraught. So much sexual tension occurs onscreen we can bite our fingernails every second. Charlie and Evelyn seems to be getting it on, yet Charlie's real interest seems to be India-pure unadulterated India. Every visual cue points to this direction- the rose, the piano duet, and Charlie's overt dialogue about how younger wine tastes much better.
Before any such horror happens, to the rescue is kindly Aunt Gwendolyn (Jacki Weaver) who thinks Charlie's stay at the Stokers' house is highly inappropriate given the timing. But of course, she is not the one who can stop the madness.
The film is heavy on visual allusion- the freezer, the telephone booth, and the coffin all have the same shape, and when these images are played side by side, expect some hairs rising from the back of your neck. Also, the clever use of shadow to manifest terror is an undeniable nod to Hitchcock. In fact a lot of Hitch's films are referenced in STOKER, from SHADOW OF A DOUBT to PSYCHO to REAR WINDOW.
The film references does not stop there. If you've seen the Filipino film INSIANG by Lino Brocka (and I'm not sure if this was the inspiration, but it feels close to home), there's a particular scene towards the end that is so INSIANG you'll shiver. Mia Wasikowska is Hilda Koronel, while Matthew Goode is Ruel Vernal, whereas guess who Nicole Kidman is?
The belt, which belonged to Richard Stoker is one other prominent visual symbol in the movie. The camera focuses on the belt whenever someone wields authority or power, hence the belt signifies power. It is passed on from one person to the next, not by way of inheritance but rather by force.
The shoes also play a major role in the movie, and at first the pairs of shoes doesn't seem to mean batshit, and it is only when the grand scheme is revealed do we only grasp the full notion of the 18 pairs of shoes in differing sizes. Wentworth Miller's idea of love by way of obsession gives me the creeps.
STOKER is a nice psychological ride that exceeds the genre because of its playful treatment of its mature subject matter, and the inspired performance of its actors. All three leads render compelling performances, but Matthew Goode's sinister turn is most devilishly entertaining. Also, Kidman is mightily wicked especially in that close up shot where she wishes ill of her daughter, and "can't wait to watch life tear (her) apart".
A good point for the movie is having us think one way as to how tragic the story will unravel (because all symbols point there), and the plot spirals into opposite direction. And while the story itself may be Hitchcockian, the execution and eventual conclusion is authentic Korean revenge drama. Filled with blood, tears, and horror. Now, now enough details.
Just remember not to put your freezer in the basement in case you need to get some ice cream one of these days. Who knows what awaits you there?