I am a big fan of Park Chan-Wook‘s. Perhaps that makes me a Wookie? If so, I can live with that. His films—previously made in Korea in Korean—are bloody and exposed and as creepy as a spider on the flesh of your inner thigh. These pictures he makes, they put good people in bad places so he can toss in a few rusty knives to see what happens.
I’ll tell you what happens. People get hurt. And people get hurt in the way that real people—not movie people—get hurt. They suffer, and mourn, and avenge themselves to make everything better or worse or both. Then usually they get hurt in the way movie people get hurt, too, like with a pair of pruning shears.
His latest film, his first English-language production, Stoker, is full of Chan-Wook nastiness and I’m not just saying that because Nicole Kidman spends a lot of it in a silk nightie. The title brings to mind Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, but this isn’t a vampire fad money grab. Nope. No undead, blood-sucking monsters here.
Just the normal kind of blood-sucking monsters, like your Uncle Charlie.
The story is surface-level simple. Weirdo loner India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) turns 18 the day her dad (Delrot Mulroney) dies in a fiery wreck. Appearing at her house in the immediate aftermath is mysterious Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) who has perfect skin and a reptilian set of expressions. Charlie ingratiates himself with frigid mommy Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and then Chan-Wook throws in some metaphorical rusty knives and lets people get to work.
There’s some mystery, and some Gothic horror, and a torrent of symbolism. And blood. Yes, that too gets a bit torrential.
Now that you know the surface-level story, though, I might as well tell you to forget it. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film in which more elements were cyphers for other things. It starts with India’s eighteenth birthday, for example; what, do you imagine, that could mean? What if I told you that each year for her birthday she receives a mysterious, hidden present that is always a pair of black and white saddle shoes in a slightly larger size. Except this year, the year of her maturity, the discovered box contains only a key.
You get the idea; or perhaps you get many ideas. That’s what watching Stoker is like. Park Chan-Wook sucks us into a world of awakening sexuality and nascent violence. It doesn’t always rivet you, but when it does, you are positively pinned. Chan-Wook’s stylistic camerawork is in full force as is his glossy and evilly alluring vision of the world. That creepy crawling spider, it’s very curious.
The production leans a bit far into the symbolic dream-state to instantly congeal, but who’s to say what’ll come in time? I’m still thinking about it, which makes it a success in my book. I also would have liked Matthew Goode’s Uncle Charlie to have appeared a bit less plastic, but I suspect that effect was intentional.
On the upside, this film has absolutely zero James Franco in it and there is no chance of a ret-conned reboot in five years featuring Andy Serkis as an all-CGI belt. So go see this version now. It may be your last real chance to surround yourself with the saddle shoes of childhood before you brush your mother’s hair for the first time, if you know what I mean.