Evoking memories of Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Park Chan-wook’s Stoker starring Mia Wasikowski, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman remains one of the highlights of 2013…
With Spike Lee’s disappointing US remake of Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy currently in cinemas, the Korean maestro makes his own English-language feature debut with Stoker.
When you see or hear the title, you’d immediately think it has connotations of Bram Stoker, Dracula and vampirism, but Wentworth Miller (whose script has been around for a few years and was among the list of great unproduced screenplays), said that it had nothing to do with vampires despite the implications of the title, but claims that Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt was in the background of all this and his main inspiration for the creation of Stoker.
The film is actually about families and it’s a film about trust. It’s partially a horror film and it’s partially a psychological thriller, but what’s interesting about it is that it’s one of those films that does the thing that only cinema can achieve properly. Watching the film, the really interesting thing about it (if you’re familiar with the director’s other work you’ll know he has a very strong visual sense) is that Stoker is a visual feast; everything is to do with the way the film looks and what it symbolises.
It’s the kind of film where the driving force of it is not the simple nuts-and-bolts of the narrative, but what it has is a symbolic power. It’s the film in which the sight of a spider crawling over a shoe and up someone’s calf seems to be incredibly profound and full of meaning. It’s a film in which two people playing a duet on a piano becomes a strangely, twisted sort of rapturous event and then vanishes (a masterfully done sequence). It’s the kind of movie in which families are turned in on themselves, and death appears to lurk at every corner. All the time, it is nodding its head towards greater themes: the loss of innocence, the birth of adulthood, the vampire idea, and towards archetypes with which it deals very knowingly. The problem with that sometimes is that it is possible to make a film in which that stuff is so overburdened, so overripe, and so laden with meaning, the film would start to stifle itself, but in the case of Stoker, that isn’t the case.
It’s a film where its coming-of-age story is completely subverted and turned in on itself, as usually the character leaves his/her nest in search of a new positive future, but in Stoker, it’s really the story about how a character slowly goes from being a surreal angel to becoming a monster, in search for evolution into being a complete evil incarnate, and that is absolutely represented in the character of India, wonderfully brought to life by the mesmerising and enigmatic Mia Wasikowska who does a wonderful job of carrying Stoker as the film’s lead. Nicole Kidman, on the other hand, plays a character that’s sexually longing and incredibly brittle, but that brittleness is played just right and is well suited.
The reason why Stoker is great is because it was very confidently done, and yes it is very heavily symbolic and it would be possible to sit down and pick the whole film apart and identify what means what. However, it’s not a film that invites you to do that; it invites you to watch it and read as much into as you want to. There are times when it actually becomes poppy and pulpy, and it is certainly not afraid of being trashy, and Park Chan-wook is a director who knows when to be trashy. But it is played at just the right level and is very wry, dark and twisted, yet a very intriguing and encouraging film that makes you think of it as an exciting piece of cinema that, like the spider in the film, crawls up your leg.