|'a weird fantasy land where Victorian shabby-chic meets psycho Ikea'|
Park Chan-Wook's Family Dram-cum-Horror film isn't exactly your average cup of Sunday afternoon tea. As distracted teenager India (Mia Wasikowska) wanders around a soft focus, life-sized doll's house, menacing Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) shows up to send Mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) all of a flutter, even as just-buried Dad, Richard's (Dermot Mulroney) corpse is still warm.
From here we get a film that at times is oddly playful and at others wilfully obtuse, blundering eventually in to a narrative that feels like the distant sinister cousin of Dexter, mixed with Silence Of The Lambs' film heritage. What's even more bizarre is that all of those elements play around each other whilst Chan-Wook apparently tries to craft himself a calling card in the West - this being his first English language production - with barmy design choices that enter us and the plot of Stoker into a weird fantasy land where Victorian shabby-chic meets psycho Ikea.
For some, perhaps this will work wonders. The accentuated sound design and oft-present score show a director unafraid of alienating his audience and the crumbly vintage attractiveness of the production design has a certain charm to it. But with the rest of the narrative progressing as it does, all of this increasingly begins to lose touch, stranding us in an odd fantasy-scape with little to relate to. By the time we finish, on the highway where we started, all of the design seems to have been left behind, India literally shedding the shackles of her child-like upbringing to achieve adulthood. Perhaps that works as a metaphor for her journey but in terms of the whole of the film, it feels a weighty sacrifice to achieve a point worth diminishing returns. There's flashes of brilliance here (a shot which merges Kidman's hair into a field of grass is better than any other single shot you'll see this year) but it feels like they're lost amongst the shots of swinging trees in vintage gardens and Goode in yet another neutral shade of fitted shirt.
Along the way, the aforementioned, menacing Matthew Goode is superb, but the three female leads; Wasikowska, Kidman and a hardly-even-here Jacki Weaver, all feel hard done by in wildly differing ways. Kidman's neurotic mother is less a character than a walking persona representing all of the ills visited on India whilst she was young. Wasikowska is downplaying and only allowed to be as dull as her odd clothing choices. Weaver hardly gets a look in before vanishing from the plot in a scene that takes place largely off-screen.
It left an unsatisfying, slightly contrived taste. Like India, the narrative seems deliberately designed to keep people at arm's length, with the director keen to embellish mood and tone at the expense of coherency and satisfaction.
Stoker is currently available on BlinkBox.