Thursday, November 13, 2014

Stoker Review

Every so often a film manages to transcend its rather weak narrative by being, for lack of a better term, eye candy. Stoker does very little to peak my interest in regards to its story, which is clearly inspired by the 1943 Alfred Hitchcock classic Shadow of a Doubt, and by "inspired by", I mean the premise and even the name of the oh so creepy Uncle is lifted right from it. Mia Wasikowska plays India Stoker, and within the first few minutes of the film we learn of the death of her father via the screams of her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), after receiving a phone call delivering word of the tragedy. With the loss India learns that she has gained a family member she never knew existed, her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) after he shows up at the funeral. Charlie decides to stick around for a while, moving in with the recently widowed Evelyn and India, but it quickly becomes clear to the latter that the man is worthy of suspicion and his motives are not exactly wholesome.

Wentworth Miller, former star of the television series Prison Break, makes his screenwriting debut here and frankly, the lack of experience shows as the film succeeds in spite of the rather mediocre and run of the mill script rather than because of it. The performances are all on point throughout, as Wasikowska, Kidman and Goode all bring exactly the right mysterious and unhinged tone to their characters, and occasionally their talents shine so brightly that they manage to elevate the dialogue written by Miller.

Despite having no complaints with the excellent casting and performances, this film wouldn't have much appeal without the two real stars of Stoker: director Park Chan-wook and composer Clint Mansell. Park is best known for his masterful 2003 Korean drama Oldboy, and he decided to make Stoker his english language debut. While I wish the extraordinary talents of Park could have been showcased in an even better film, because trust me, this ain't no Oldboy, it is arguably more impressive that his artistic vision and ability to make every frame feel important managed to make a lesser reimagining of a classic seem compelling and worthy.

Clint Mansell is a man who simply will never get enough credit, a composer so gifted that the scores he crafts would make even the most lackluster and disappointing efforts feel watchable. Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, Moon, Black Swan, and the 2014 biblical tale Noah (you may notice an Aronofsky theme here), Mansell doesn't merely add to the experience of these films, he enriches them with scores so integral to the finished product they feel more like an important character than music. His work on Stoker deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with his finest achievements, as the already eerie vibe created by Park Chan-wook becomes downright spine-tingling thanks to the perfectly unsettling melodies of Mansell.

Stoker feels like a painting you walk past in a museum, one that really doesn't speak to you in any meaningful way and won't convey any lasting message no matter how close you look, but look you will. It's just so aesthetically pleasing you may never want to look away.


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