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  Stoker Not Nice, Niece
Year: 2013
Director: Chan-wook Park
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney, Ralph Brown, Judith Godrèche, Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich, Phyllis Somerville, Harmony Korine, Peg Allen, Lauren E. Roman, David Alford
Genre: Horror, Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Teenage India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) has recently suffered a bereavement as her father died in mysterious circumstances, apparently because he accidentally crashed his car. She isn't quite sure about how she feels about this, but her brittle mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) is left rather shellshocked, though at the funeral India catches sight of a figure watching from a distance and wonders who it could be. She doesn't have much time to ponder, as back at the house her mother introduces her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), a man she had barely heard of until now - but could there be a connection between them?

Other than the obvious familial one, that is? Could they have complementary personalities in an echo of Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, though in this case it's less their differences that create the tension than the similarities? Something like that, and actor Wentworth Miller's script was much-lauded around Hollywood as a particularly fine example of its art, so he must have been delighted when the South Korean director Chan-wook Park took it on as his first English-language project after a run of international success in his native tongue. The end results won many plaudits, but there were voices of dissent.

Mainly because if you scratched that glacial surface you would find a very basic storyline which failed as a character study when underneath India's blankness there wasn't much there. Kidman got the meatiest role, but then again wasn't allowed to spread her wings with it, only getting a handful of scattered opportunities such as the late on monologue where Evelyn tells her daughter she doesn't hope she will enjoy all the chances in life she missed out on, and wants her to fail miserably instead. Frankly this corrosive mother-daughter relationship was far more absorbing than the majority of the film, which detailed India's growing obsession with her uncle, and her rivalry for his attention with her mother.

He seems affable enough, but we can tell he's hiding a dark secret because it's that sort of movie, leaving us unsurprised at the revelations he is a murderer. There is some enigma about whether what we are seeing when Charlie kills someone is actually happening or all in India's mind: the scene after she escapes a rape by a classmate when her uncle murders the boy is given a curious dimension when it's intercut with the girl in the shower, apparently crying until we realise those sobs are noises of sexual ecstasy as she masturbates. This might make the production sound more trashy than it is, but if it had leaned on the lurid side of horror rather than the classier side it might have been more satisfying.

This lack of clarity regarding the lead character's mental state is eventually resolved, but not in an interesting way, more in the clichés of many a teen killer thriller, which is fine except Stoker was championed as something a little different when aside from its visual qualities it was more of the same. Certainly Park still had a talent for the striking image: India's changing shoes representative of her development, for example as Charlie gives her a pair of high heels, but what was that saying about female sexuality? That it was something to be feared, as indicated by the metaphorical spider we watch crawling up between India's legs? There were saner women here, but they were not given as much room to manoeuvre as the protagonist, and that room amounted to some ho-hum psychokiller quirks. Really this was a film to appreciate for its look, because if you started to analyse what it meant emotionally or intellectually you wouldn't get very far; some may find that beguiling, others may yearn for more to get their teeth into. Music by Clint Mansell.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Chan-wook Park  (1963 - )

Controversial Korean director with a strong visual sense. Made his debut in 2000 with the powerful political thriller JSA, which dealt with the divide between North and South Korea. Follow-up Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance was a gruelling tale of revenge, and Park contributed to the human rights anthology If You Were Me. Oldboy was another acclaimed revenge movie, while Cut was Park's entry into the Asian horror anthology Three... Extremes. In 2005, Park completed his 'revenge trilogy' with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. He received mixed reviews for I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK, with his modern day vampire story Thirst seen as a major return to form. His first English-language work was the reserved horror drama Stoker which he followed with arthouse hit The Handmaiden.

 
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