Stoker

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I was originally on the fence about seeing Stoker, but I’ve been dying to get to 2013 films already and this was starting to sound less creepy than I had originally thought it might be, so I went for it. When I first saw the trailer and they introduced Matthew Goode’s character as “Uncle Charlie,” my mind immediately went to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, so that was another motivation to see the film. Not to belittle Chan-wook’s contribuations to his own film, but I really liked the Hitchcock references going on here. I read an interview where he said he was originally trying to stay away from all the Hithcock, but eventually just decided to go for it and I’m so glad he did. Not that that’s the only thing to like about this film, because it isn’t. It’s a well-made film in its own right.

The first thing you’ll notice about this film is the highly individual style. I have never seen a film that had quite the feel of this one, and I can only assume (having never seen any of his other films) that this due to Chan-wook’s particular way of directing. This guy really likes his slow motion, and I think it works for him. He also amplifies certain sounds, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the story or just for the effect of it. His camera movements also seem very deliberate; he moves the camera a heck of a lot in very interesting and obvious ways. It’s pretty clear what the story’s going to be like from the trailer, even if it’s not as clear how it’s going to end up. Because I’d seen it a couple of times and read some reviews, I was able to appreciate what he (or whoever designed them) was doing with the opening titles. Nicole Kidman’s name got brushed aside, and Matthew Goode’s name drifted with the wind blowing Wasikowska’s skirt. But, not everyone’s seen the trailer so I’ll clarify.

India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is a eighteen year old girl who’s father has just died. She was apparently very close to him and taking it pretty hard. The beginning of the film is actually the very end; she tells us in voice-over the self empowerment and freedom that she has gained, now we just have to figure out how she became this way. She explains that everything she’s wearing is handed down from someone in her family, and that like her clothes her family has made her who she is today. She also explains that she can hear things that other people can’t. I’m not sure how literally we were supposed to take this, but based on how Chan-wook amplifies sounds that seem to be actually occurring I think India is just supposed to have heightened senses or something because she and her family are just really strange. This didn’t sit well with me; I felt like it was only there to enhance her similarity to her uncle and so Chan-wook could go crazy with the sound. It kind of stuffed something supernatural in there, and while the film was definitely weird it was more on the psychological side except with this, so it kind of bothered me. With this ability, she notices a strange man gatecrashing her father’s funeral from afar. Later, this man is introduced to her by her mother Evie (Nicole Kidman) as her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), her father’s brother whom she never knew existed.

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Charlie just moves right on in with Evie and India. Though Evie seems to trust him and take to him immediately, India is more wary of this guy who just showed up out of nowhere. Now, what I was thinking right around now is “of course that guy is not really her uncle!” but it didn’t turn out that way. Uncle Charlie is actually her uncle, but that doesn’t make him any less mysterious. Though Evie and Charlie get closer and closer, you can always tell he has his eyes on India and India knows it too but can’t figure out why. About halfway into the film it becomes apparent that he’s trying to draw her into his nefarious activities, and the explanation that is offered is that he just feels he has a right to her because they’re family and very similar and all that jazz. “We have the same blood” (I’m pretty sure that was a line; curse imdb for only having one quote up there). Looking back on it, this explanation  seems kind of lacking but while watching the film I did not have a problem with it at all. I also might add (oh heck everybody knows I’m not going to be able to stop talking about Hitchcock here) that this “we’re the same person” thing is used in Shadow of a Doubt, and it seemed even more farfetched there, but that’s probably because it was 1943 and Wright was really hamming it up.

So although Charlie gets right down to seducing Evie in obvious and pretty effective ways, he very carefully and deliberately lets India see who he actually is. I don’t know if this would be considered a spoiler (it’s hinted at heavily in the trailer), but I’ll put out the warning anyways: SPOILER ALERT! Who he actually is, is a murdering psychopath! It’s obviously very calculated how he draws her in; it induces a lot of suspense and it also had me admiring Charlie’s manipulation ablities quite a bit.  He buys some ice cream and has India take it down to the freezer, which happens to be in the creepiest basement ever, complete with cobwebs and a swinging light. From the moment I saw the freezer, I thought it looked like a good place for storing dead bodies. I wasn’t too surprised when I turned out to be right. It’s pretty obvious something is off about this guy, sending her into the creepy dark basement with a body-storage freezer, but that’s what’s great about this move. Now you’re anxiously awaiting the moment of discovery, and it puts the focus more on India’s reaction rather than the body discovery itself. There’s also the piano thing; Charlie originally tells Evie he can’t play the piano and she starts teaching him. With India, it becomes abundantly clear how absolutely false this is. India’s playing the piano and Charlie just sits right down next to her and starts playing with her perfectly. If that sounded creepy and messed up, that’s because it is!

Eventually things escalate to the point where Charlie and India participate in a murder together. I wouldn’t really say conspire because it was not really premeditated, but they definitely conspire after the fact to cover it up. India finds out more and more of the past murders Charlie’s committed but doesn’t seem to mind, and even when she starts to it seems that Charlie’s able to convince her that it’s okay. There’s a big confrontation scene where we find out about all of Charlie’s past, and even though it may have been better to leave a little mystery in his character, the flashbacks were brilliantly done. They were editted out of sequence so though you kind of knew what was going on, you weren’t sure exactly how the crime(s) was going to go down until the very end. It was pretty startling to find out exactly what Charlie did in his past.

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The description for this movie that’s going around states that India “becomes increasingly infatuated” with Charlie, but that’s not really correct. This threw me for a loop for awhile; call me crazy (and you probably should) but I was convinced this film was going to end up with India and Charlie living happily ever after on some Badlands or Bonnie and Clyde style cross country murdering spree. What India’s attracted to is not Charlie so much as the act of murder; murder is the drug and Charlie is merely the enabler. I almost wonder if they did this to kind of throw us off the trail, or maybe I was the only one who thought this. I still kind of think I’m right though. Chan-wook shows a spider creeping around India’s leg a couple of times, once it even goes between her legs, so I though that the spider was supposed to symbolize Uncle Charlie. Flies show up too, when India’s looking through Charlie’s stuff in secret. So if you combine the two, Charlie is like the spider that’s drawing India, the fly, into his web. I really do think Chan-wook was trying to fool us here, and he had me going at least. During the piano scene he might have touched her back, it’s kind of hard to tell, but otherwise I don’t think he ever did, sexually of otherwise. There was a scene where he comes really really close, but then Evie shows up and puts a stop to it.

They actually both “can’t stand to be touched,” like at all. It’s never explained outside of the fact that they’re just weird. For my part, it reminded me of Marnie; the main character has a similar problem because of something in her past. The similarities to Shadow of a Doubt are pretty obvious; it’s mostly in the set up. The way India reacts is very different from young Charlie. I think it was a good call to give India a different name, instead of using the same for the uncle and the neice like in Shadow of a Doubt. The film is ultimately a really horrifically messed up coming of age story about how India becomes independent; she never really depends on her uncle, and her actions are somewhat determined by him, but not to the same extent as in Shadow of a Doubt, where she is basically just at Uncle Charlie’s mercy for the entire second half of the film. Also, the swinging light in the basement reminded me of how Vera Miles hits the light in Psycho after discovering Norman’s mother, and there’s another dead body discovery when the light is swinging in Stoker. There’s another similarity to Psycho, there’s even a shower scene here. It’s different but still pretty shocking. Also, India’s father stuffed the birds she killed when the two of them were hunting. Norman Bates anyone? There were a ton of cleverly done Hitchcock references here; so even if you only see it for that you won’t be disappointed.

I liked and appreciated Stoker; I didn’t love it but I think it’s a good way to start off 2013. Though it has a bunch of Hitchcock references, it is still most definitely Chan-wook’s film, which his highly individual style of direction will not let you forget. I personally loved his style; he was moving the camera around and I was eating it up. I thought the film was very visually compelling; there’s not a lot of dialogue giving Chan-wook the chance to show us things rather than state them. It’s a pretty creepy film, and it definitely had me thinking I was messed up for watching it the way I did, but it’s not going to scar me for life by a long shot. All in all, I think I started off 2013 on a good note with this film, while still having some more room to get better.

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“We don’t need to be friends. We’re family.”

Long story short: 3.5/4 stars

27 responses to “Stoker

  1. Great review – and you highlighted some references that I missed! Got to say that while I thought there was a lot to admire in this film, I was ultimately disappointed. I’m a massive Can-wook fan… like so many people, Old Boy is one of my favourite movies (they shouldn’t have let Spike Lee or anyone else near it!). I think Matthew Goode’s performance is creepy but ultimately too one dimensional – apparently Colin Firth was originally slated to play the role and I think that would have worked better both from the depth he could have given the character and from an age difference perpective. However, the real problem is probably the fault of the script… it’s a story without consequences and as such was impossible for me to believe.

    • Thank you! I love to find references, especially when they’re to Hitchcock films.
      I was really impressed with the film, but a some moments I was distracted by how strange it was presented. Also on the whole it wasn’t a very emotional film, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, it leaves you with more brainpower to analyze stuff. Hopefully that’s what he was going for. The fact remains that movies I (and think most people) tend to really like are emotionally involving and this one wasn’t really.
      I had heard Colin Firth was originally meant for this, but I’m still not sure who I would have preferred. I like Firth and all, but I’ve never really seen him be creepy. Of course that doesn’t mean he can’t do it, just because I haven’t seen it before. I though Goode did very well, the only part that seemed a bit off was in the flashback when he was in the car with Richard. His emotions just seemed kind of forced and I’m not sure if that was him trying to be a psychopath or if it actually was forced but either way it wasn’t sitting to well with me. I thought he was good for the rest of the film though.
      That’s interesting what you say about consequences though. I didn’t even think about really. I think if they had shown the cop at the end actually arresting her or something, it may have been more believable but they wouldn’t have gotten the coming of age point across as well. She’s supposed to be free at the end, right? Whether you agree with it or not, I think that’s what Chan-wook was getting at. If she had gotten arrested or something it may have undercut that a bit (but that is proabably what will happen to her later in life). I didn’t really go into expecting a believable story so I guess it just didn’t bother me.

      • I guess what I mean by consequences is that during the film, people kept disappearing without anyone seeming to notice (apart from one very short, forced scene with the cop at the front door) and that what happened to Goode’s character before he showed up at the funeral wasn’t known about and that nobody from the hospital followed up on him. Lots of things just kept nagging at me. I didn’t have a problem with her getting away at the end/coming of age – that made sense!

        Bu I definitely recommend you go back and watch some of his Korean movies.

        • Oh yeah, I see what you mean. I guess I just didn’t notice it as the film was going on. I actually liked that scene when the cop showed up, I thought it was interesting to see the two of them interacting with an outsider for once. It does seem odd that no one really noticed that Jacki Weaver was missing; I’m sure someone wherever she worked or something would have noticed… Those other servants in the beginning just sort of disappeared as well. It’s not even acknowledged at all (as far as I remember). You have a good point, I guess it just didn’t bother me.
          I’ve heard his Korean films are really really violent; I’m not really sure if I can handle them… but I’ll look into and I’ll give it shot if I think it won’t be too bad (in terms of violence).

    • Thank you! I hope you like it, if you do ever decide to check it out. I don’t think it’s threatening to be the best film of 2013 by any means, but it is a very interesting and unique film that’s definitely worth your time.

  2. Great post Hunter. I really enjoyed Stoker. I thought it was beating us around the head a little with its metaphors and imagery but I can’t agree more how Hitchcockian it was.Definitely one I’d watch again to try and see more references.

    • Thanks! It was fun finding all of those references; like you say I’m sure there are more and it would be even more fun to go back and find them later.
      I guess he was getting a bit heavy handed there, but it didn’t really bother me that much at the time… He kind of led me astray for awhile but in the end I could definitely see what he had done. So I guess he was a bit obvious, but he knew what he was trying to get across and he did so I guess I didn’t really have a problem with it.

  3. hmm this is a thought provoking review. i havnt seen this, but is it possible that the enhanced sound was used in a similar way as in a streetcar named desire? basically to throw the audience off, more so to make them uncomfortable than to actually put us in the characters shoes. also about colin firth being creepy, it might be me personally but ive found that whenever he plays the bad guy or someone who isnt a nice sympathetic character he creeps me out. that might be me, and again i havnt seen this so i dont know the level of creepy required. also i would like to reccomend a movie by a south korean director, its not really related but i started to think about it with your discussion. the host (2006) from bong joon ho, its actually in korean and its a monster movie, so lots of SYMBOLISM!! its great.

    • Awesome! I love to provoke thoughts 🙂
      It wasn’t really like Streetcar Named Desire. The sounds were actually occurring. Like someone would be walking and he would sound extra loud, that type of thing. I feel like in Streetcar it was more of in Blanche’s mind. I haven’t seen the film in awhile though. I know in the stage directions for the actual play Williams is like “and now this piano plays really loud and frantically because this is a scene with a lot of turmoil” and stuff like that. I can’t remember if they did that in the movie though.
      I don’t think Colin Firth has ever creeped me out. He’s a good actor, so I’m sure he could do it if he tried (maybe he already has and I haven’t seen the film). It’s just that when I think of Firth my mind doesn’t go straight to creepy or even close. That’s all I’m saying. Goode was suffiently creepy, trust me.
      Cool beans! The Host is now on my list. Maybe I’ll do it in October 🙂

      • i meant stuff like the train or trolly car, whatever it was, going by, it was really loud, and blanche would cover her ears and all the other characters were like heh whatev. thats what i was talking about. and for me anyway, the fact that i dont think of colin firth as creepy is what makes him creepy when he plays a bad guy…see what i mean?

        • Oh wow…. I guess I don’t remember that, which is pathetic because I’ve seen that movie like a bazillion times. I’ll have to revisit it one of these days (oh darn ha ha). But I think the word you’re looking for there is “streetcar” you know, “named desire.”
          Well, Colin Firth as a bad guy, I’ve only seen in like… Shakespeare in Love. He wasn’t even that bad or evil, just an inconvience I guess and definitely not creepy. I guess I see what you’re saying generally, but with my limited experience I can’t apply it to Colin Firth. That’s all I was getting at I guess. I’m sure he can do it, but I can’t really picture it without having something more to go on.

  4. Good review Hunter. It’s a crazy movie, but fun if you look forward to seeing what happens with this plot and with these characters.

    • Thanks! It is very interesting to see where he goes with this thing. I didn’t really see that much of it coming, but in retrospect it seemed pretty obvious.

  5. Nice review. I’ve just seen this with a friend who is a massive hitchcock fan. Though we came to a different conclusion about the spider and fly. The fly, we think, is just a reference to another Hitchcock film (can’t remember which one – I’m not the Hitchcock buff that my friend is, but he seemed convinced). The spider, I thought, was just a creepy, semi-sexual reference which was released when she came of age when she saves her mother at the end (the spider crawls over Charlie’s face, presumably released from within her). Also, I get Psycho alarm bells going right from the start with the fact that Matthew Goode looks so damn much like Norman Bates.

    • Hmmm…. I know there’s a fly at the end of psycho where norman/mother is like “I wouldn’t even hurt a fly” but I feel like you’re probably getting at something else that I’m not familair with…. I can’t think of any other Hitch films with flies, can’t really help you with that. If you ever remember/ask your friend what film you guys were thinking of, be sure to come back and let me know!
      I don’t remember the spider crawling across his face, man I missed a lot here. I was thinking the spider was a sexual thing, definitely, because it’s crawling up her leg in that one part. I thought it was more to throw us off, because at the end of the day her coming of age seems to have more to do with killing than sex.
      Yeah, Mathew Goode kind of does look like Anthony Perkins… I never really thought of it before but now that you mention it….
      Anyway, thanks for commenting!

  6. I asked him again and he says Psycho has running fly themes. The opening crane-shot into Marion’s hotel at the start is supposed to be ‘fly-like’ apparently. Plus we view the affair as a ‘fly-on-the-wall’. Then, as you say, the fly bit in the final monologue. Not sure how solid those seem but I’m happy to take his word for it that it was an intended theme. Personally, my first thought while watching it was just a standard reference to the presence of evil – Beelzebub; Lord of the Flies, etc.

    I think I do prefer your spider interpretation though, thinking about it.

    • Oh okay. I actually just watched Psycho but I guess I didn’t pick up on that stuff (except for the fly at the end obviously). Also flies and dead stuff. Just saying. Evil works too. It could be any number of things really, whatever works!
      Awesome! Glad I could give you something to think about (even though it turns out to be spiders, eww)!

  7. Brilliant review! I loved that you wrote about all these references. I read the script for the film a while ago and I can’t wait to see it.

    • Thanks! I love finding references, it’s one of my favorite things to write about (especially if they are to Hitchcock films).
      That’s impressive you read the script! I hope you get to see the film, it’s really good.

  8. What I got out of the movie was that india had a similar relationship with his father to the one she had with uncle charlie, with all the fu** up stuff that represents, they made very clear that the belt was dads belt, and everybody seemed to love dad more than its normal, from charlie, that killed his little brother out of jelousy. To india that was the only one who was sad about his death, mom probably knew the kind of f*** up dude dad was, so she wasnt that sad. But when charlie arrived and stealed all dad anchors, clothes, belt, the fact that he looked like him, the two girls couldnt resist and fall again for the same thing, the game continued, a little more overt for india this time, but it was the same game, at the end she reliced it and killed uncle charlie, thats the freedom she talks about, no more male predators.

    I am probably crazy myself. But thats what I got. The whole shoe weirdness is f*** up for a dad to do, so this guy wasnt normal either, stokers are all killers and the reason is sexual harasment from early age.

    • Interesting. I haven’t seen the film since this post, so it’s a little fuzzy for me. When I saw it, I think I just believed everything they were telling me about the dad so I didn’t even think to develop any theories about him. He seemed like an okay guy to me. Your interpretation definitely makes sense though, so when I watch it again I’ll have to pay attention to the dad more!
      Thanks for commenting!

  9. 1 thing bothers me. How did the uncle knew about evie n india if he’s been locked up all this while? In the middle of the movie, i thought for a sec that india is actually the uncle’s daughter but i was wrong. Logically, the uncle should know nothing of the family.

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