Saturday, April 6, 2013

Stoker (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


South Korean "Asian Extreme" director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance)  offers his vision of The American one percent in his latest "Stoker". Chan-wook, an ornate and painterly director right alongside David Lynch, is known for his vivid and eerie Gothic tales of one-upmanship that unfold with the beauty of some murderous oriental birds' wings. His antiheroes are usually those up against it: the pale and vermillion kissed, banshees of the border who wilt and float upon piecemeal moons and ache to settle scores.

In "Stoker" we are placed in a completely encapsulated world as time-lost and ageless as Lumberton in "Blue Velvet". It is very much the 1950s as evidenced by the high school and soda shop despite the use of smartphones. Here is a big sprawling house, where nothing is out of place. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) has been recently handed a savage mental blow when her caring father (Dermot Mulroney) suddenly dies in a car accident. India is disconsolate in grief. Abruptly without explanation, India's Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) appears,  taking on the role of Mr. Stoker as Mrs Stoker's (Nicole Kidman) new beau.

Charlie is a statue in Ralph Lauren attire. He speaks in a flat toneless manner, moving boxes around and  fetishising his expensive sunglasses. He is a bit like Norman Bates too, in his clean cut appearance. India slinks around a bit like Wednesday Addams or Christina Ricci in "The Addams Family". India is fond of bobby sox shoes, funereal customs and last but not least, playing Philip Glass style riffs on the piano. If it sounds corny, it is a bit. Or rather it would be under other hands. But Park Chan-wook has such a rhythmic sense of detail that he holds us in.

Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) appears as Aunt Gwen, a Polanski-esque woman with secrets to tell. 

And folks start disappearing before too long.

"Stoker" mimics the original "Psycho"  and Mary Harron's " American Psycho" (2000) for its swinging basement lamp (the Psycho house) and flat dialogue (the speech of Patrick Bateman), respectively. It is more than a bit kitsch, but there are beautiful images throughout the film that drip like violent haiku. Consider the multiple pairs of  two toned shoes that are arranged around India like an ambulatory circle of insulating pigeons, or the Daddy Longlegs spider as it creeps up India's thigh that symbolizes murderous danger or a loss of control--- its legs as taut as a piano wire garrote. 

What might make another repetitive outing for The Stepford Wives is here enhanced by the visual vocabulary of Chan-wook into a vampire tale for the Amagansett set and blood has never curdled with such origami design. And, there will be few who can resist the unending spool of Nicole Kidman's hair as it melts into a field of wheat, in true Park Chan-wook fashion, and by now a beloved trademark. 

This is probably the only film you will see where a sandcastle on the beach is as scary as Norman Bates's knife. 

Although the climax creates a lower case stoke to a suspenseful fire, the arresting visuals more than rise to the occasion.

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