Monday, August 05, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Stoker (2013) ***½

R, 99 min.
Director: Chan-wook Park
Writer: Wentworth Miller
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Phyllis Somerville, Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich, Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney, Ralph Brown

Watching Chan-wook Park’s U.S. directorial debut “Stoker”, my faith in a filmmaker’s ability to make a good vampire movie has been restored. I thought that the “Twilight Saga” had forever tainted that horror subgenre for me, but here my faith in the forbidden lusts of gothic horror has been restored. The funny thing is that “Stoker” isn’t a vampire movie at all, but it certainly feels like one, and I’m pretty sure the connection is no coincidence.

Written by actor Wentworth Miller, “Stoker” is perhaps the perfect material for Park’s U.S. debut. Park’s 2009 Korean film was a vampire movie, so it seemed strange to think he’d do another one. Well, he hasn’t. Yet somehow this movie is more like a vampire film than even his “Thirst” was. It involves a love triangle of sorts, a common element in the classic vampire pic that even found its way into those sad “Twilight” films. It involves a resurrection of sorts for the handsome uncle played by Matthew Goode. It involves an affluent family that is in many ways outside the standards of normal society. Most of all it involves a forbidden lust. Well, two such instances actually.

Mia Wasikowska is a privileged kid who has just reached her eighteenth birthday when her father is killed in a mysterious auto accident. Her mother, Nicole Kidman, has always been cold and distant. During the funeral an uncle shows up, who Wasikowska’s character knew nothing about. Where did he come from? Why hasn’t anyone ever mentioned him? And why is he showing up just after the death of his brother? His intensions seem sinister, although his charm is high. Now, that’s a good description of a vampire right there.

But, he’s not a vampire. There is no supernatural element here. His purpose seems to be to seduce the widow into making him her lover, until he sets his sights on his niece. Now, that’s a hell of a lot more forbidden than loving both a shiny abstinent immortal man with fangs and another who can’t seem to keep his shirt on and sometimes transforms into a giant CGI wolf-like thing. This movie is naughty, not preachy, corny and boring.

I won’t reveal anymore of the details of the plot. Park’s direction, however, isn’t really bent on keeping secrets so much as it is in building an atmosphere of lust and danger. Not all the lust involved is sexual either. Bloodlust plays a pretty big role in the climax of the film. There are secrets that may not come as much of a surprise to those who study thrillers, but they are well earned by Miller’s screenplay and Park’s sultry direction. Before seeing the film I wondered if the name “Stoker” was supposed to evoke the most famous vampire novelist of all. After seeing the movie, I’m sure of it.

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