'Stoker' an art-house shocker
"Stoker" is an art-house shocker.
While the film's title has nothing to do with Bram Stoker's "Dracula," it has its ghoulish elements.
With little advance word about the film, I didn't know what to expect.
The story in "Stoker" begins at a funeral, that of Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney), who died in a mysterious car crash. We see his widow, Evelyn Stoker (Nicole Kidman), and his daughter, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowski).
India, who shared a special bond with her father through their hunting trips, is especially distraught.
At the post-funeral family gathering, Richard's brother, Charles Stoker (Matthew Goode), shows up. He ingratiates himself with Evelyn.
However, Gwendolyn Stoker (Jacki Weaver, supporting actress Oscar nominee, "Silver Linings Playbook") has her suspicions about Charles.
"Stoker" is one of those films where revealing much of anything about the plot would be one big spoiler alert.
What we can say is that "Stoker" is the kind of film that will be enjoyed by fans of the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Brian Di Palma and David Lynch.
"Stoker" is the first English-language film by South Korean director Chan-wook Park, who is noted for edgy films including the vampire thriller, "Thirst" (2009), and the so-called "Vengeance" trilogy.
"Stoker" is a very stylistic film. Form not only follows function. In 'Stoker," it dictates function.
Park directs in a deliberate, formalistic style, framing his shots as one might in a still photograph, with lots of space in the frame. He uses unusual camera angles, often from the perspective of the floor looking up, and fish-eye lens, where facial features are exaggerated.
Park also has an eye for symbolic detail: India's black and white saddle shoes. A spider crawling up a stocking leg. A red painted room, with contrasting garish colors, foreshadowing a particularly shocking scene.
The cinematography in "Stoker" by Director of Photography Chung-hoon Chung is beautifully elegant.
The soundtrack includes evocative, mood-setting piano pieces by Phillip Glass.
The co-written screenplay is the first one to make it to the big screen by actor Wentworth Miller ("Resident Evil: Afterlife") and Erin Cressida Wilson, noted for her psychological thrillers, "Chloe" (2009), "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus" (2006) and "Secretary" (2002), credited for "Stoker" as contributing writer.
"Stoker" has engaging and amazing performances by its three leads.
Mia Wasikowski ("Alice in Wonderland"), looking very much like Wednesday from "The Addams Family" with her long hair, white complexion and monochromatic Puritanical clothing, creates a complex, if unsympathetic character as the daughter, a high school girl student. Wasikowski is riveting.
Nicole Kidman plays a reserved but off-kilter mother who seems disconnected not only from her family and surroundings at the Georgian estate where she lives, but from herself as well.
Matthew Goode ("Watchmen," "Match Point") is the oddest and most charismatic of the lead characters and gives the film its propulsive creep.
If you're looking for a film to stoke the thriller side of your movie-going experience, "Stoker" is worth checking out.
"Stoker," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for disturbing violent and sexual content; Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller; Run time: 1 hr., 39 mins.; Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Credit Readers Anonymous: The end credits for "Stoker" roll from the top to bottom of the screen, rather than from the bottom to top. Get that? You may just have to be there to see it.
Box Office, March 29: "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," opened at No. 1, $41.2 million, weekend; $51.7 million, since opening March 28, sending "The Croods" to No. 2, $26.5 million, $88.6 million, two weeks; and keeping "Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor," opening at No. 3, $22.3 million;
4. "Olympus Has Fallen," $14 million, $54.7 million, two weeks; 5. "Oz the Great and Powerful," $11.6 million, $198.2 million, four weeks; 6. "The Host," $11 million, opening; 7. "The Call," $4.8 million, $39.4 million, three weeks; 8. "Admission," $3.2 million, $11.7 million, two weeks; 9." Spring Breakers," $2.7 million, $10.1 million, three weeks; 10. "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," $1.3 million; $20.5 million, three weeks; 24. "Stoker," $178,000, $1.4 million, five weeks
Unreel, April 5:
"Evil Dead," R: Five friends in a remote cabin, the Book of the Dead. Haven't we seen this before? Yep, yep, it's a remake of the horror film.
"Trance," R: Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire" Oscar winner) is back to direct a crime thriller about an art auctioneer who becomes mixed up with a criminals in an attempt to recover a lost painting. James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson star.
"The Company You Keep," R: Robert Redford stars with Shia LaBeouf in the thriller about an underground activist on the lam.
"Jurassic Park," PG-13: Yep, they're back: T Rex and friends. And they're scarier than ever as director Steven Spielberg's 1993 blockbuster is re-released in 3-D.
Read previous movie reviews by Paul Willistein at the Times-News web site, tnonline.com, and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, Lehigh Valley Community Public Radio, WDIY 88.1 FM, wdiy.org. Email Paul Willistein pwillistein@ tnonline.com.
Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes