Monday, March 18, 2013

Review: Stoker

If there’s one thing I like in my movies its originality, either in story or presentation. One of my favorite movies of all time, Fargo, is at a story level, a simple heist gone wrong movie elevated by a unique character dynamic and story structure (not to mention peerless writing and directing). Stoker meanwhile is a blend of several different story types combined with some extremely unique direction to make something that is not only much more than the sum of it’s parts, but also easily the best film of released this year so far. 12 weeks in and 2013 finally has its first great film.

The story is about India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), an emotionally cold teenager, whose father has just died (and she was closer to her father than her mother, just to rub salt in the wound). At the funeral, she is introduced to her uncle (Matthew Goode), who announces his intention to stay, which delights her mother (Nicole Kidman) and irritates her. But soon, people who argue with her uncle are disappearing. And what’s worse, the already emotionally distant and prone to occasional acts of violence India isn’t nearly as bothered by this as she probably should be.

While most of the movie is excellently put together, a lot of the movie has to be held up the actors and they all do a great job. Mia Wasikowska is giving the best performance of her career so far, working a difficult and cold performance, but also finding energy for a couple of unexpected and profoundly disturbing sequences. Matthew Goode, who I can’t remember being good or memorable in any other movie, is really good here, playing a darkly cheerful character, and playing him well (and yes, I know he was in Watchmen). And Nicole Kidman…you know what, fuck it, I don’t need to talk about Nicole Kidman. She was in Eyes Wide Shut, The Others, The Hours, Dogville, Rabbit Hole… we all know she’s great, I don’t need to tell you right?

What really pushes this movie over the edge though, from merely ‘really good’ territory into ‘great’ is the direction. Everything about this movie, from the shot choice, to the blocking, to the lighting and shadows are highly deliberate and well chosen and the way it’s edited and especially the way it sounds are extremely unique. It’s hard to explain in words how weird and unique the editing and sound in this movie is, but it begins literally moments into the film, so you’ll see what I mean. At least a few shot choices and transitions are going to blow your mind and one transition had me literally gasping out loud at how brilliant it was.

The script and story are similarly unique and brilliant, existing in a weirdly nebulous place between horror, thriller, drama and coming of age. I think what genre this movie belongs to is going to be hotly debated among people who see it. Even the sparingly used makeup (most notably the contacts the three leads are all wearing) is brilliantly chosen. If there’s a flaw in it (and I’m not 100 percent convinced this is a flaw) it’s that the ending seems to drift off into ambiguity, but that seems more like another design, rather than an issue.

If you’ve heard of this movie at all, it’s probably because the director, Park Chan-wook is well known in the West for his film Oldboy (actually the second part of a trilogy and the subject a Spike Lee helmed remake this year, because Hollywood is full of idiots). And while Oldboy is justifiably lionized, Stoker deserves to be seen and evaluated on it’s own merits. If Stoker is playing near you, do not miss it, it’s the best thing I’ve seen all year.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and one scene in this movie is gonna make his upcoming Alice in Wonderland watchthrough awkward.

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