Jessie’s Saturday Night Fright Flick: Chan-wook Park’s STOKER

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Jess

Movie junkie Jessie Robbins picks a horror film for a Saturday night.

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Watching movies on a plane, in my opinion, is tricky business.  I always try to find a movie that is not too gory, not too sexy, not too controversial, and that leaves me with some pretty boring options.  The idea is that the screens, while small, are still able to be seen by many of the people sitting around you, and your choice in film could leave your neighbors wondering what kind of person you might be.  While I don’t judge the films being watched by my fellow passengers, I am also quite liberal in my choice of entertainment.  I make my plane film choices accordingly.

My mom told me a couple of years ago that when she was traveling on a plane, she had watched a movie called STOKER, she said it was a little weird but she really enjoyed it.  My expectations for the film then, naturally, were that the film must be a bit on the tame side, not sexual, not very gory or disturbing, while still being halfway decent (the latter reason being that while the film could be boring based on plane-watchability, it must be kind of good because my horror and Stephen King loving mom liked it well enough).  I was pretty much wrong on all counts.

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STOKER stars Mia Wasikowska as mild-mannered India, a quiet yet strong willed teenager, who’s life gets turned upside when after the death of her father (Dermot Mulroney), a man (Matthew Goode *swoon*) comes to the house claiming to be her uncle.  Nicole Kidman plays India’s mother who becomes vulnerable after her husband’s death, drifts from her unusual daughter and into the arms of this charming stranger, who may not be everything he says he is.

Directed by Chan-wook Park, and written by Wentworth Miller, STOKER is a fantastic look at sexuality and the loss of innocence, emotional emancipation, and the darkness inside us all.  India’s transformation from careful teen to young woman happens out of necessity, through her experiences she is thrust into adulthood. Wasikowska is great in everything I’ve seen her in, but she is exceptional in STOKER, though mild-mannered throughout most of the film, she is able to evoke emotion through facial expressions and mannerisms, her quiet apathy and angst exude from her very pores.

Matthew Goode, as Charlie, plays the dark, handsome charmer almost too well.  He is captivating and cultured, well-mannered and protective, the silent intensity behind his eyes is both attractive and terrifying. While not one of my favorite roles of Kidman’s, she plays jealous manipulation quite well.  In the absence of a male breadwinner in the family, she latches onto Charlie, becomes infatuated with him, his knowledge, his obvious penchant for dominance.  The longer Charlie sticks around, Kidman’s character, Evelyn, goes from wanting to spend more time with her daughter, to becoming her daughter’s competition.

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Every shot in STOKER is a photograph.  Chung-hoon Chung’s (OLDBOY and the upcoming remake of IT) cinematography is breathtaking, his use of angles and light and color make for perfect composition, the dynamics of power and weakness are displayed visually, and that is most likely the work of both Chan-wook Park and Chung-hoon Chung together, their visual styles work together so well. 

The soundtrack (in part contributed to by Philip Glass) is gorgeous.  Oddly enough the last time I was on a plane I listened to an album of Glass’ work while reading and felt quite sophisticated, and lulled, my flight anxiety lifted by some soothing piano and Margaret Atwood.  The soundtrack, while as soothing as piano can be, is also filled with longing and urgency, the duet between India and Charlie is both sensual and quarrelsome, in this moment, India struggles with letting her walls down and, eventually, succumbs.

I could go on and on talking about STOKER, I’ve seen it about five or six times now and I find something different to swoon over every time, it’s not always just Matthew Goode.  My advice to you, if you haven’t already, is to sit down, preferably alone (all the better to focus), and let STOKER just happen around you.  If you are anxious like me, maybe forgo watching it on a plane…  If you have the option, Netflix is much less expensive.

Stay scared, kiddies.