Aug 19, 2013

[Movies] Stoker (2013)

In the past I've mentioned that I had a bit of an interest in the movies of Matthew Goode ever since I first saw him in Imagine Me & You. But over time it's clear that I fell more in love with his character than him as an actor.

On the flip side, he is quite the intriguing performer and he carries a certain intensity about in with every role that he fulfills. So it only makes sense to cast him in a psychological thriller like Stoker - his rather cool, calm and collected demeanor was just perfect for the role.

So yes, I admit that I actually watched a thriller film on my on mainly because of an actor. But hey, even a geek like me is entitled to the occasional shallow decision, right? I'm only human!

At the very least, the movie wasn't all that bad and it didn't send me crawling up the walls in fear or something. It's a rather subtle piece that doesn't have the usual shocks and thrills that we see in other movies. In this case everything felt like it was done quite deliberately and decisively, which is a good thing for any movie.

Synopsis: Stoker is a 2013 psychological thriller directed by Park Chan-wook of Oldboy fame. Surprisingly the screenplay was written by Wentworth Miller, whom most may remember from the TV show Prison Break.

Just as she turns 18, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is faced with tragedy when her father (Dermot Mulroney) dies in a car accident. That leaves her to be raised by her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), who doesn't appear to be taking the news of her husband's death perfectly well. However at the funeral they meet Charlie (Matthew Goode), who turns out to be the brother of Richard Stoker. Neither Evelyn nor India have ever met him before because he has spent the years traveling the world.

He offers to stay with Evelyn to help support the family, something which that Evelyn embraces with open arms. India however remains suspicious of this new figure in their lives and keeps a close watch on him. Things continue to get stranger as the housekeeper, Mrs. McGarrick (Phyllis Somerville) disappears without notice. As Charlie and Evelyn continue to grow closer, India keeps her distance and avoids Charlie whenever possible. She's not sure what precisely his designs are on her mother, but it's clear that she's not the kind of girl to let something bad happen without attempting to do something about it.

When I first saw Mia Wasikowska, she oddly reminded me of a weird cross between a young Claire Danes and Tobey Maguire. I can't quite explain why I had this impression precisely - something to do with her skin tone, the purse of her lips and of course her overall acting style. She's a pretty strong actress, especially in a role as complex as this one. And yes, it was quite believable to consider her to be a girl at the cusp of fully blossoming into a woman.

In contrast, Kidman and Goode bring very different dimensions to the movie that also add additional "flavor" to things. Nicole Kidman manages to portray being just on the sane side of crazy well enough, the kind of state you sort of associate with uncaring mothers prone to drinking. And thus it actually does make sense that she readily opens her doors to Goode's character given he's a dapper enough man who seems alright. But given the nature of the movie, we know there's something sinister about him.

The movie has masterful and beautiful shots - that we can certainly thank the director for. He has a unique vision that he was able to bring to life in this movie along with a taste level that is not seen often enough in Hollywood. However I'm not sure if it's the script or the acting direction given to the characters that drained some of the emotional impact from this movie. At times things felt just a little "too pretty" or something along those lines. Things just kept happening to characters and it's like we were all meant to be a little numb to the events.

When you read more about the movie online, there's a lot of discussion about the various nods to Alfred Hitchcock's movie-making style in this film, which I can sort of get. It's not a totally strong vibe that the average movie-goer will pick up on, however any film student is bound to get a little giddy with some of the imagery introduced into the movie.

The movie is generally compelling, but not as strong as it could be. Some of the plot elements were scary enough while others felt a little flat or even predictable. I guess it's because there was a serious effort to keep the character of Charlie to be generally likable and thus you as a viewer are constantly made to second-guess your perception of him even though it's clear that he's the "bad guy" in the story.

Stoker is a different kind of thriller that feels both familiar and new at the same time. I enjoyed myself, but was not totally enamored with the movie but it still merits a viewing should you have the time. Thus the movie rates a relatively respectful 3.5 implied sexual imagery out of a possible 5.

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