Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Someone must have been pissing in the DNA samples, because something has gone horribly wrong with this Shadow of a Doubt clone. If Stoker is supposed to evoke the Hitchcock classic, then it does so only as a Frankenstein-style re-creation, built out of spart parts left over from South Korean horror films and The Paperboy. Regardless, there are now two sociopathic Uncle Charlies stalking the corridors of cinematic history, and we must contend with Park Chan-Wook’s contribution to this proud tradition of avuncular terror. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Hitchcock and Park—making his North American feature debut here—but the contrast is illuminating. Shadow of a Doubt pours acids on the idylls of middle America; Stoker looks at the scarred remains and suggests everything is precisely as fucked up as it seems. Park et al. have arrived to point out that damaged loners and isolated eccentrics are kind of nutty, which is as dramatically satisfying as declaring a spade is a spade. The gulf between the two films is written in the faces of the men who play Uncle Charlie. When Joseph Cotten’s gentleman-killer smiles, he looks like he’s going to offer you a drink. When Matthew Goode smiles, he looks like he’s going to brain you with a rock.
Despite a few elegant visual touches here or there, Stoker only occasionally rises to the heights of coherence, while its stately pace and artful splatter veers ever closer to camp with each twist of the plot. For such grisly sex-and-murder mayhem, the film is surprisingly bloodless. The fault lies partly with Park’s smothering style and partly with the performances. Goode, as mentioned, is little more than a smirk in a sweater, while Mia Wasikowska (as India, Charlie’s equally deranged niece) is reduced to petulant sulking for much of the film. As for Nicole Kidman: future scholars will write of this film when discussing her camp-vamp phase, so I will defer to their expertise. However, what could any performer do with this ripe nonsense? Self-realization in the film is intimately twined with sex and violence, which amounts to masturbating in the shower after your uncle has killed your would-be rapist—with your father’s belt, I should note (wouldn’t want to lose any of the psychosexual nuances, after all). The film pushes so many buttons at once it smashes the remote. Even when the film gets it right, it gets it wrong. Yes, children do often reflect the madness of their families, but that doesn’t typically apply to distant relations you don’t even know exist. Or is strangling people with a leather belt some sort of hereditary condition now?