I put artsy indie films and Hollywood blockbusters in the same category. I look at both with mistrust. The archetype of the blockbuster is a tightly structured movie, with very little space for creativity. Movies like Iron-Man, Men in Black, Twillight and more, are a product Hollywood sells. They have to make money, so I understand very little is to be left to chance. Art films (lacking a better word), are the opposite, often on purpose. If the norm is to shoot, write, light, in a certain way, they do the opposite to escape the norm. Originality supersedes quality.
I beware of the mindless blockbuster as I do of indie-crap.
Stoker looks a lot like indie-crap. Fortunately its director is Chan-wook Park and luck of lucks, he didn’t get lost in translation.
The plot uses two conventional settings: A woman becomes a widow (Nicole Kidman) and a strange man (Matthew Goode), her deceased husband’s brother in this case, attempts to take his place while the daughter suffers. In setting number 2, a teenage girl is a high-school outcast who finds a kid who against all odds, takes a shine to her. Mistrust settled with both set-ups, but both turned into something unexpected in way very much in Park’s style. And if you’re not familiar with his Vengeance Trilogy, I meant that as a big compliment! One scene in the shower is the epitome of Park’s twists.
Mia Wasikowska plays India. She has an acute sense of hearing which appears to be shared by her uncle. We share it too. Every important sound pounds your ear-drums and leave marks. A rustle of leaves, a bubble bursting, an eggshell cracking, a fly buzzing, a belt tightening. Unlike indie-crap, these aren’t newly learned skills or techniques learned in film-school, which need to be shown in case your parents think your education was a waste of money. Park doesn’t turn to ask and asks, “See what I can do?”. More like, “See? … Now do you see?”
Visually its more of the same. The style is unique and flamboyant, but also purposeful. Weird angles and moves serve the story. In one of the later scenes, India talks about how a photography, because it’s taken from an angle you could never see in the mirror, makes you look at yourself in a new and different way. She felt like that at the moment. It was one of the moments that showed us the change that was occurring in her, that would transform her in what she really is. What she said made me think back and realize how most scenes were shot. How at the table the camera swindles left and right to show us two sides of a character and how the camera repeats it later in an important scene. How, after a day out, mother, daughter and strange man are united in the kitchen as we witness the genesis of an odd family. The camera changes so fast, that we get a sense of how different the situation must feel for each person, from each angle. How, sitting at a piano table a relationship changes from fear to sexual desire. The camera follows delicate porcelain hands and then big masculine hands, then intertwines them and exhilarates us to accompany the music’s tempo. It’s not often that a movie engulfs you and make you a slave to your senses.
Maybe it was the visual unorthodoxy, maybe it was the violence who kept the audience of the theatres (the movie made less money than it cost). Making flashy blockbusters isn’t hard and making indie-crap is easier. A thoughtful movie whose message creeps at you and bashes you in the head is harder to make. Harder to sell. What I think kept the audiences at bay was probably its dark message. The movie spirals into darker and darker places. It presents the idea that you can only become who you are. You can shed your layers but you can’t make new ones. That’s a frightful and maybe alienating thought. Specially if you’re born a psychopath.
I’m not the messiah, but you can follow me: