Thursday, February 28, 2013

Deftly Directed

Stoker       Final Cut Score: 75%

I greatly appreciate unconventionality in film. When you're subjected to a ceaseless stream of brainless, cookie-cutter creations, stumbling upon something unique is quite lovely.

Having to actually think about what you're taking in, - be challenged by it - is more invigorating than a mid-February plunge in the waters off P-town.

But while oddness is stimulating, no film can be declared a categorical success if idiosyncrasy is its sole redeeming value. See: Moonrise Kingdom.

And that brings us to Stoker, which - contrary to logical thought - has nothing to do with nocturnal blood-suckers. The blood-letting oddity - penned by former Prison Break star Wentworth Miller - centers on teen outcast India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) and her all-dolled-up-with-nowhere-of-significance-to-go mom (Nicole Kidman), the duo coping with the sudden death of the head of their stately, more-sterile-than-an-ER household (Dermot Mulroney).

In waltzes India's uncle, Charles (Matthew Goode), a Norman Bates-mannered weirdo who proceeds to woo his brother's now widow, moving into the homestead and creeping out poor lil' India. Though Uncle Chuck may be underestimating the ferocity that dwells deep inside the saddle shoe fanatic.

Beware the garden shears.

While Stoker is bathed in eccentricity, it's swathed equally in stagnancy. Miller's screenplay could use a good kick in the pants. Dripping with mood but deprived of dynamics, Stoker fails as an overall film yet wonders with the wizardry of the man behind the cam, South Korean kingpin Park Chan-wook.

We tend to toss around the term "Hitchcockian" much too freely for my taste (e.g. Soderbergh's Side Effects), but in this case it's resoundingly warranted.

In his first English-language effort, the Oldboy helmer frames his scenes from multiple, unorthodox angles – each more visually striking than the last. Park's vision is virtuoustic. If Stoker were given to a run-of-the-mill director, it would be borderline insufferable. In Park's hands, it's tolerable enough – elevated well beyond its source material.

Aspiring directors take copious notes.

As I sit on the proverbial fence re: the merits of Stoker, consider me all in for Park's next project. Let's just hope he has gold to work with rather than mineral pyrite.