Genre can be a bit of an annoying thing for a film maker. In many senses it is very useful to him: it plays with audience expectation, which he can either satisfy or defy depending on what type of film he’s making. For Director Park Chan-Wook, it has been a case of shooting himself in the foot by self-proclaiming his newest directorial venture Stoker as a psychological thriller. The promise to thrill is a pretty big one and one this film falls a little shy of, which makes it a very slight disappointment. It might have been better classified as a psychological horror. The problem is we’ve come to associate horror with gore so that wouldn’t really do either. What I mean by horror is that the film is injected with a little of the old fashioned Gothic.
India Stoker is a reserved teenager who suffers the tragic loss of her father of her eighteenth birthday. Not long after her father’s charismatic brother, Charlie, whom India had no idea had existed before her father’s funeral, comes to stay with her and her mother in their large country home. As the plot unravels, India begins to form a connection with her uncle as they find they have a strange unexplained bond. I say Gothic because the film is thrilling in the sense that our senses are heightened – sounds are louder and closer, always closer than we’d like. But more than anything it’s the fact that throughout the film there is this air of sex and death that is constantly present. As a girl who has just come of age, India is presented as a cold, quiet but highly perceptive girl who dresses a bit like Wednesday Addams. She is unsexy in the conventional American sense but we see that even the boys at school are drawn to her dark beauty. Mia Wasikowska gives a wonderfully astute performance of the young troubled girl and as usual is enigmatic on screen. Matthew Goode is no less brilliant in his performance and if you thought he couldn’t possibly drip with any more tense sex appeal and charisma than he did in A Single Man, then you were wrong. But this is certainly an attraction that leaves one feeling very uncomfortable.
One of the strangest things about Stoker is how much it is about sex and yet implicitly it is not. Many times the weapon of choice for a psychopath is a phallic weapon, like a knife. But for a film so filled to the brim with sex, there is nothing of that sort really until the very end and like any gothic horror, it does somewhat challenge society’s ideas about sociality and sexuality. What it doesn’t do, is what it claimed on the tin: thrill. In my book that doesn’t really matter too much, as such films as Black Swan thrilled me so much that I threw up mid-way through and although that is a spectacular piece of work, sometimes you need a little less. Something a little more understated. If that’s what you’re looking for, this film is definitely for you.
Stoker is released in cinemas Friday 1st March 2013.]]>