J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sundance ’13: Stoker


India Stoker is sort of a female Hamlet.  After her father died under mysterious circumstances, her mother is all eyes for her uncle.  However, Uncle Charlie is more interested in replacing his brother as a pseudo-father-figure for India in Park Chan-wook’s first English language film, Stoker (trailer here), which screens during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

India Stoker and her father were always very close, having bonded during their regular hunting trips.  Yes, she is a gothic protagonist who can handle a firearm.  Her relationship with her mother is another matter.  Evelyn “Evie” Stoker is a woman so chilly and severe, by law she has to be played by Nicole Kidman.  When Uncle Charlie shows up after the funeral, the widow turns to him for “comfort.”  India is not impressed, rebuffing all her Uncle’s overtures of friendship.  Kindly Aunt Gin appears quite alarmed by Charlie Stoker’s presence, but she disappears before she can explain why.  People seem to do that around the Stoker family.

Stoker is exactly the sort of film Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows should have been, but totally wasn’t.  Park’s mastery of mood is reflected in every scene, particularly some visually arresting transitions.  While the lurid nature of the material often approaches camp, Park emphasizes the repressed brooding and eerie atmospherics.  It also helps that Wentworth Miller’s screenplay tells a fully fledged story that mostly comes together down the stretch (rather than stringing together a series of gags).

It would be spoilery to explain why, but it is safe to say audiences have never seen Mia Wasikowska like this before.  Yet, in a way, India Stoker is something of a psychologically troubled cousin to Jane Eyre.  Matthew Goode holds up his end, bringing all kinds of creepiness as Uncle Charlie.  Although Kidman is often relegated to the sidelines, she perfectly delivers some scathing Mommie Dearest lines in the pivotal third act confrontation that audience members were quoting immediately after the screening.

Park’s accomplished hands have transformed a V.C. Andrews-ish yarn into an unusually stylish dark fable.  The Oldboy auteur’s admirers should be well pleased with his English debut and it also ought to earn Wasikowska a whole new level of fanboy appreciation.  Elegantly sinister, Stoker is recommended for sophisticated genre patrons when it screens again today (1/25) in Salt Lake and tomorrow (1/26) in Ogden as a Premiere selection of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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