Stoker (2013)

xUpNp6vGifted auteur Chan-wook Park has made his US cinematic debut with “Stoker,” a film that is easily one of the most brilliant horror films of 2013. Park is one of the few Asian imports that’s managed to really debut with a bang, and “Stoker” shows that Park is well worth making it to the states. As well, he has potential to deliver a high pedigree of genre films if he has the chance.

“Stoker” is “Lolita” if engineered by David Lynch and Dario Argento. It’s a creeping and morbid little Gothic gem that relies on heavy symbolism and incredible dissolves in to key scenes that provide its entire narrative with an otherworldly atmosphere that’s extraordinary. Park aims for a teeth grinding horror film that slowly unveils its story elements, and introduces characters that gradually expose their own inner beasts as the narrative progresses.

Much of “Stoker” garners a supernatural tone, with main character India Stoker not just dealing with her father’s death, but with her increasing age. She’s spent much of her life so built on a rigid formula of suppression and isolation that upon her mother’s notice, she realizes she’s reached an age where she’s no longer a girl and now becoming a woman. Mia Wasikowska gives a fantastic performance as India Stoker, this young woman who slowly unravels when she meets her long lost uncle Charles.

Wasikowska allows India a stock of hidden aggression and morbid curiosity by the gleam of her eyes, and gazes of sheer horror. She’s become this beast that she can’t quite understand. And it’s revealed in much of her environment where she derives much pleasure from mild sounds and her environment. She can see and hear much around her, mainly because she’s yet to fully grasp her entire persona and world surrounding her. She’s also tormented by a group of boys in her high school obviously aroused by her, whom also seem frustrated at her inability to recognize her own sexuality.

Much to India’s surprise, the only person who seems to be conscious of her changes are her uncle Charlie, and he is a relentlessly charming individual promising dire consequences upon his arrival. A great deal of “Stoker” is reliant on subtle imagery and pretty incredible nuggets of terror that elevate the story to something more than a simple mystery. The creeping spiders along India’s legs, as well as her ability to manipulate the imagery in her mind is a wonderful insight in to the sub-conscious of a young girl that’s been stifled and confined to a world she has outgrown more and more over the years.

With her parents insistence on keeping her confined to four walls and simple dimensions, her doors suddenly open when Charlie visits his family at her dad’s wake, and quickly insinuates himself between India and her lonely mother Evelyn. Evelyn is a woman based around facades and artifice who never quite knows or understands India, while Charlie is a raw personality who can understand India better than she ever does. This alarms India, especially when he begins to reveal much about himself and the world she finds both disturbing and enticing.

Deep down, Charlie presents something of a legacy in the Stokers, and he seems to understand that India possesses the same ticks that have made him the man he is. Thus his seduction is calculated and vicious. Matthew Goode’s performance is outstanding and Oscar Worthy as the snake in the grass Charlie Stoker, who returns to his home to for his brother’s funeral and then makes it quite apparent he’s intent on staying for the long haul. India and many of the family’s residents never quite understand what he’s up to, but try to uncover what his ultimate plan for his niece and sister in law are.

Charlie is unfortunately brilliant enough to be one step ahead of everyone in story, thus providing an ideal villain and anti-hero who dwells in the shadows and makes his interest in India all too apparent. “Stoker” isn’t just a brilliant narrative, but Park seeks to transform it in to an experience offering a masterstroke of genre cinema. It’s a film that revels in the metaphor and symbolism behind sexual awakening and adulthood, and “Stoker” succeeds as a horror masterpiece that challenges audiences with a narrative teeming with an abundance of masterful layers and subtext.


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