Before beginning this review, I have to state that Park Chan-wook is one of my favourite Asian film directors and I am a huge fan of Oldboy.
This is his first English speaking film and he lives up to his cinematic techniques and devices.
When watching Stoker, the first thing that grabbed my attention was the music, and in some scenes the lack of music. Throughout the entire film, the music reinforces the uneasiness of the uncle, played by Matthew Goode. The main score varies between diegetic and non-diegetic. During the entire film, there are several shots where the music is heard but it is off-screen (non-diegetic) but then the scene changes to a shot of India (Wasikowska) playing the same melody on the piano. The piano is frequently seen within the film and one could suggest that a majority of the film relies heavily on the piano and the melodies played by each character.
As well as the music, there are also recurring motifs such as the whistling of Charles (Goode) which becomes attached to him and allows the audience to understand and identify that he is a potential threat, one could say that the whistling has the same effect as the Jaws theme tune. The audience becomes aware that something evil is soon to happen.
As I stated earlier, the lack of music is also very effective. India and her uncle Charles are able to “hear what others cannot hear” [direct quote from the film], therefore when there is no melody playing either on screen or off screen, the other sounds are reinforced. The opening scene has a voice-over effect added which is, despite not stated until the end, the voice of India. Within this opening scene, the sound of bugs and wind is reinforced, creating an immediate uneasy feeling toward the film.
One particular sequence of shots that rely heavily on sounds and, for me, was extremely effective was the scene where India was playing her piano and there were multiple shots of her opening items with lids, such as her piano and pencil case. This scene was excellent as India had just discovered her dead housekeeper in the freezer, therefore whenever she lifted the lid from certain items she has a flash back to the discovery of the dead housekeeper. I found this to be a fantastic scene as there was a melody in the background [India playing the piano] with the reinforced sound of the freezer opening.
It is clear that I found the music and sound to be one of the most prominent aspects of this film but now I will focus on the rest of the fantastic film. The three main characters played by Kidman, Wasikowska and Goode all excellently portrayed their characters. The mother of India played by Kidman was one of my favourite representations. Kidman showed the jealously of a mother and daughter relationship extremely well and towards of the end of the film, you can’t help but hate her, which was something new for me when watching a Kidman film. Wasikowska, also portrayed a mourning teenager very well. She was constantly seen looking miserable and always deep in thought. It was clearly from the very beginning of the film that she didn’t have a good relationship with her mother and this already established relationship continued throughout the entire film.
Charles, played by Goode, was charming and attractive, yet you could tell immediately that something is not ‘right’ about this character and Goode manages to keep this characteristic throughout the whole film. During the murder scenes, you can’t help but get anxious due to the build-up of the death.
Throughout the duration there are multiple freeze frame shots and lots of fast camera movements which, in my opinion, keeps the audience constantly aware that they are watching a psychological thriller. As well, there are many ‘unusual’ cuts to separate scenes. These cuts vary from the swipe technique to an ellipsis in the narrative which is filled via flashback techniques. The use of repetition in the film is very frequent. There are many shots from previous scenes, which add a little bit more information when India is trying to piece together the mystery of her uncle.
There are also many extreme close-ups, and one in particular is the scene where India is brushing her mother’s hair. This scene is an extreme close-up and as the camera focuses on the hair, it changes into grass, for a flashback of India and her father.
When India is her father’s office she discovers letters written from her uncle addressed to her. When she begins to read them, the letters are super imposed onto the screen and there is writing all over the screen. Despite this technique being used in multiple films before this one, I found this interesting and it was different to anything that came up previously in the film.
One of my favourite scenes within the film was the build-up to the death of India’s aunt. Each character from Charles to the aunty are all watching the same nature programme about a predator seeking out its prey. This scene stuck with me as when you watch it, you know, deep down, that Charles will find the aunt and kill her. I found it interesting as the voice-over of the animal channel narrator stayed over the top of the entire scene until Charles had found her and killed her.
This film is a great film and a fantastic purchase. For those who haven’t seen it, I would advise a viewing as soon as possible.
Park Chan-wook has done it again! He manages to grasp the audience from beginning to end.