Recently, the likes of The Woman In Black has gone back to the "good old days" where mounting tension and off-camera scares are pushed to the fore to create the desired effect from the audience. This movement towards old school continues with an unlikely source - the director of the violent and kinda-gory vengeance trilogy (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.)
Director Park Chan-wook brings to this Western tale of a family and its secrets a very Asian flavour, bringing to mind the creepier moments of the likes of the Ring, The Eye and The Grudge franchises. Just like those cult classics, every image seems to have been contemplated and dissected before it's inclusion in the final film. Nothing it seems has been left to chance in either those films or here too. Imagery is key. For story purposes and for fear-inducing purposes.
The point here is fear caused primarily by uncertainty - of what's happening and of what some of the characters will do next. Imagine the various family members of say The Munsters, Beetlejuice or The Addams Family - condense them into just a handful of characters, and then mix in a decidedly 18 certificate feel and you will be someway to realising the Stoker family. Chan-wook, along with his (alien-to-him) English-speaking cast has delivered some of the more weirder individuals to be placed upon the silver screen in recent memory. This, along with striking visual imagery and a book ending of the film with the same scene, helps the events that unfold take on a certain "troubling dream-like" quality. The opening credit sequence starts this off with its imaginative placing and removing of the names not unlike those of Night Watch where the images upon the screen - Mia Wasikowska standing by the roadside - affects the words and their visibility. This use of imaginative imagery also shows such striking dissolves as Nicole Kidman's brushed hair blending into a field of wind-swept grass, and Wasikowska's tiny frame walking along the middle of a highway followed by her just discovered Uncle Charlie in his open-top Jag, into her walking up her driveway still followed by the ever-increasingly strange Uncle Charlie in his open-top Jag.
Kidman, who is no stranger to sexually-charged but emotionally-fragile roles (think of Dead Calm, The Others and To Die For) nails it as the recently widowed Evelyn who becomes more-and-more enamoured with Mathew Goode's Uncle Charlie. Goode delivers the perfect amount of smiles and uncomfortably long stares towards Wasikowska's just-turned-18 and greiving daughter - India - who seems to be channeling a mixture of young "angsty" Winona Ryder within the looks of a young Claire Danes. Running throughout the entire Stoker, as with these three characters, nothing is at all what it seems.
With its swings-and-roundabouts plotline of just exactly who Uncle Charlie is and his connection to the recently widowed Evelyn and emotionally-closed down India, the film boasts a not-too obvious story arc that has a great but disturbing flashback in it that breaks the mainstream cinema taboo of killing children which still doesn't fully shed light on events that will unfold afterwards.
Intriguing, interesting, inventive, imaginative and incestious, Stoker is a rare breed of film that mixes its horror with thriller and adds dysfunctional family as well just to create a more heightened emotion to it all. You'll never view distant family members in the same light again.
UK release date: 01.03.13