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Stoker Review: Sex and the South

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Film Reviews | March 1, 2013 | Comments ()


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Stoker is a stunning work, as strange and marvelous as a cuckoo clock made of glass. A lot of people will probably hate this movie, but a lot of people are pretty dumb though so avoid them at all costs. Life's hard enough as it is.

India Stoker's (Mia Wasikowska) father has died unexpectedly on her birthday. As his (Dermot Mulroney) funeral begins, the first stirrings of a strange presence are felt, and India's Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) appears on the scene, comforting her distraught-but-not-too-distraught mother Evie (Nicole Kidman) and showing no signs of ever leaving the grand home that India has grown up in. India and her father were very close, and it's clear that India holds little love for her beautiful but vacant mother. Dark events begin to occur as India must uncover a mystery and above all, protect herself.

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dont u want an umbrelly it might rain. u can stan unner my umbrelluh ellluh elluh. have a nice day at school im definitely not seducing ur mom while ur gone all dayyyy. lol

It is one of my great misfortunes that I've liked almost all the movies I have to review for Pajiba. And this is yet another movie that to say too much about the plot won't ruin the movie, but certainly takes away much of the fun. Oooooh and it's scary. It's a good scary, dread seeping through the floorboards and hovering thick and lush in the air, following India home from school, where she is taunted for being different, and hanging like a picture in a darkened hallway, watching you constantly.

Stoker is the kind of film that teaches you how to watch it as it goes along, leading the eye and making you hyper aware of just what to look for. It's the opposite of a brainless popcorn flick, and yet remains imminently suspenseful and terrifying. Director Chan-wook Park is best known for his violent foreign films, Oldboy, Thirst and so on, elegant and highly original films I hear, though I've not seen a one of them, a serious failing on my part. There is something decidedly unique in his presentation, something I'm tempted to write off as a kind of stylized approach that many foreign films, dare I say "Asian" films, excel at. A kind of balancing of every element, giving no more weight to one than to another, bouncing you from aspect to aspect in a lively fashion without ever dragging.

Stoker also feels thoroughly literary, set in a rich, vaguely Southern realm. There's endless gorgeous details throughout for the careful viewer, scenes so carefully composed they feel impossibly interesting, large scale paintings populated by fascinating elements. The sound design here is on another level entirely, and I'm not sure I've ever heard anything like it, the buzzing of the insects and call of the birds -- the subtlest sounds of gulping down a glass of wine becomes something all consuming and fascinating.

The screenplay, by Wentworth Miller (yersh, that Wentworth Miller of "Prison Break" fame) with contributions by Erin Cressida Wilson, is good, but not excellent and it's easy to see Stoker being an abysmal flop without the directing talents of Park, and tremendous acting from all parties. The sheer enormity of shots and the variance in them makes me wonder how in the world they actually shot this beast, how did they have enough time? A single dinner scene required more shots than I could count, there's very little lingering in the camera work, which is tidy and beyond efficient.

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I'm in ur garden, clipping ur hedges! But not in a sexual way! This is not a metaphor! This is also not a weapon! Chalice and the blade heh heh heh u remember davinci code?

On to the goods. Mia Wasikowska is wonderful, trembling and powerful as India Stoker, cruel wild and willful, a trained hunter with an eye for observation. What a blessing to see a coming of age film that doesn't lean too heavily on the shy, retiring flower trope. Her transformation from girl to woman is born of violence and bloodshed, a kind of radical rebirth that leaves her more powerful than she was before, a demented superhero determined to choose her own adventure.

There's an electric current of sexuality like a trickle that becomes a torrent, India's sleeping heart woke by the presence of a man unlike any she's known before, and her changes terrify her as the adult world naturally would. There's two stirring scenes including a female masturbation scene that has none of the faltering, cautious exploration that we've come to expect from women taking matters into their own hands, but is a dark, turbulent matter than has more in common with "Fallen Angels" than it does with, well, actually I can't think of anything to compare it to. More of that stuff, if you don't mind. There's a weird lack of truth when it comes to female sexuality on film, and though it's not likely to change anytime soon, it's still so important. Movies teach us, and give us expectations to have and to hold, we need to take that more seriously not only in the broad strokes of violence and such, but in the unspoken details of human connection.

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do u know how to play 'crazy train'? or like, anything by crocus?

Matthew Goode's work can be uneven at times, but here he is enchanting, seductive and endlessly creepy as good old Uncle Charlie, always watching, always seeing. Never in a rush, always reliable. Nicole Kidman is almost relegated to background material here, a woman always left out of the party who wants so badly to be loved. The secret lives of girls and woman rarely come into conflict until there's a competitive element, and to compete with an adversary one knows so well is a terrifying spectacle. I spent much of my time gazing at her face wondering if indeed she had had work done or not, and trying to decide if she looks better as a redhead. She does. Maybe.

The film is being compared to Hitchcock, and fairly enough. At Stoker's core beats a mystery, tied up in family, desire, sexuality and a deep-seated legacy that must be lived. Riveting, though it wanders at times, is fairly violent and features a protagonist many will feel is a bit too strange to love. Fans of the bizarre and original will be delighted beyond belief, while those expecting tamer fare would do well to stay at home.




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Strand

    Yet another movie where Matthew Goode unsettles me with his unnatural, otherwordly beauty.

  • lindaaargh

    Ooh, watch "Oldboy," but don't stop there! It's part of a trilogy. "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," "Oldboy," and "Lady Vengeance." They are all fantastic.

    I saw "Thirst" when it came out and was very impressed. It's more of a slow-burn than frenetic like "Oldboy." But Park Chan-wook is an amazing director, and makes amazing and strange and beautiful films.

  • Amy

    I saw this movie at a screening and hated it. And no I'm pretty sure I'm not dumb. I found it to be almost wholly style over substance. But I feel that way about most of Chan-Wook's movies.

  • googergieger

    Also I can't believe you fauxhipster folk haven't seen Oldboy yet. It is like the most popular foreign movie of all time. Well I guess Battle Royale is more popular. But Oldboy is actually a great movie. So yeah go watch that movie already you turkeys.

  • googergieger

    Well right now Oldboy is touring the country on the big screen in limited cities. I can't wait to see Stoker myself. Park Chan Wook is the best director of all time. Well, my favorite. The T.V. spots for Stoker look shite, though.

  • .

    That's Krokus, goddammit. KROKUS!

    "Long Stick Goes Boom" kicks ass.

  • Malin

    The captions were incredible, but the review was also great. I love the lyrical way you write, it's so different from most reviews one reads. I really want to see this film, but I'm worried it'll be too creepy for me.

  • I saw it last night...and yeah, I don't want to spoil anything either. But man, it's nice to see Wiakowska finally getting material up to her abilities.

  • yemayah

    "..dread seeping through the floorboards and hovering thick and lush in the air, following India home from school, where she is taunted for being different, and hanging like a picture in a darkened hallway, watching you constantly.."
    Brilliantly written review, Amanda Mae Meyncke.

  • BlackRabbit

    Agreed, I wanted to remark on this phrase especially. Damn good stuff. Also your kickass captions.

  • yemayah

    Amending this to add, I looked back to check out my recollection about the writer of "The Problem With Obsessions: Boys and The X-Files", another beautifully written, affecting and memorable piece I copied to my hard-drive. So full of heart.

  • Lee

    We're not getting this film in Australia till the end of fucking AUGUST!!! The film has 2 Australian stars in it. What is wrong with these distributors???

  • "It is one of my great misfortunes that I’ve liked almost all the movies I have to review for Pajiba."

    Hey Dustin! Someone just volunteered for the next twelve romantic comedies!

  • Jezzer

    You leave TK's wheelhouse alone. >:(

  • Judge Holdenmynuts

    STOKER !?!?! I BARELY KNOW ER !!!

  • Homestar

    This is the review I was hoping for. Oldboy was the most startling, difficult movie I'd ever seen when I first watched it. I'm glad Park is still managing to be creepy and awesome.

  • BabyBearStrikesAgain

    I've also never seen Oldboy but I have heard people rave about it so I was REALLY looking forward to seeing this movie. Really glad it appears to hold up to my expectations.

  • lonolove

    Does anyone know when the official US Release date is? I can't find any theaters playing it...anywhere. I've even checked NY & LA. :( I've been waiting for this forever, and now that the review was posted I felt that surely the movie would be available for viewing SOMEWHERE! Help!

  • Amanda Meyncke

    It's limited release today in theaters, moviefone shows it playing in three LA theaters. Hope this helps! It'll maybe go wide, so good luck!

  • You got around the fact that it's hard not to spoil this film so effortlessly. Excellent review. Humbling and inspiring really.

  • Len

    Great intro

  • Bert_McGurt

    I'm left fascinated by that picture above - that bright yellow umbrella is the sole splash of colour in an otherwise drab, muted palette and I can't help but anticipate that having significance.

    Great review. And your captions were quite entertaining.

  • mswas

    Great Googly Moogly, you are one hell of a writer, Amanda Mae!

  • Agreed. I was planning on skipping this, but the review kinda makes me want to see it.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    You better be referring to my awesome captions because the rest of it is filler.

  • mswas

    The captions are the icing on the awesome cake.

  • prairiegirl

    The picture captions are my favorite part! I can't stop giggling. ;)

  • prairiegirl

    Also, the entire review was written beautifully. I'm very interested to check this out. Thanks for your insights.

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