Stoker (2013)

Stoker (2013)

There are dark films… and there are dark films. For some, a straight-up horror movie with a somewhat glib ending constitutes a truly “dark” film, whilst some will consider the ending of The Empire Strikes Back as dark. Me? Well, you’ve got to do something pretty darn subversive for me to label a film as “dark”. Take the darling of controversy, The Human Centipede, as an example. For some, the material was considered so offensive that the film was labelled as filth. But me? I just thought it was a lazily constructed, terribly acted film. Nothing more, nothing less. But every so often, a film crawls along that makes me think “wow… this is a dark slice of cinema”. Stoker is that film.

Dark

Dark

Stoker primarily focuses on India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) following the death of her father. All she’s left with is her emotionally-detached and disturbed mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), and the staff that work at their home. This all changes when her estranged uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) turns up at the funeral and stays for an extended period of time. She’s not alone any more, but the token of family solidarity isn’t what it initially seems to be either. Who is Charlie? Why hasn’t she heard of him before? And just why is he so weird?

To go into any more depth would destroy the film entirely. Chan-wook Park‘s Stoker is teed up as a psychological thriller that’s meant to harken back to Hitchcock films of yesteryear. The film oozes style in the way that it’s shot and it truly does harken back to that period… if only I really enjoyed that period of cinema. I’m much more of a modern cinema junkie than I am into the “classics” that people rave about. For some that’s blasphemy, but I couldn’t give a damn. I’m The Phage!

Stoker (2013)

The aping of the “classics” style makes the initial 45 minutes excruciatingly hard to sit through, as the momentum is somewhat absent. There’s no immediate set up, nor a big hook to latch on to. The film is entirely character driven and no mystery really appears until about 30 minutes in. It’s only then that the film truly gets going. As you can probably tell, I wasn’t a fan of that initial period. I didn’t really know what was going on and so I started to piece together my own plot in my head. My own plot was exciting and to be honest, wasn’t far off the mark come the conclusion of the film. OK, so I didn’t predict just how bonkers it would get towards the end, but I at least knew something was awry.

While we’re on the topic of “bonkers”, let’s return back to the “dark” theme I talked about. Now, annoyingly, I can’t really tell you why I found the film so dark or crazy towards its conclusion lest I spoil the plot for you. Let’s just say that some of the scenes are quite peculiar to watch. To some they’ll actually be quite uncomfortable. Those initial 45 minutes made me question just why this film had received an 18 rating from the British Film Council… but it became apparent later on. Let’s just say that India gets a lot of “pleasure” from some of the more perverse events that unwind. And they really are perverse.

Stoker (2013)

So what of the acting? After all, the film doesn’t help itself by rolling out the plot as slow as is humanly possible. Well, it’s… it’s… it’s OK. Mia Wasikowsa is great as India, but she’s somewhat limited by the fact that India is an incredibly sour-faced girl whose emotions range from “I’m really sad” to “I’m petulant and sad”. Well, except for that “pleasure” scene! Similarly, Nicole Kidman plays the emotionally-disturbed mother to a tee too. But there’s just no range in the role. I understand that it’s not actually possible to show off all your range in a film like this, so it’s probably more a short-coming of the film, or my lack-of-appreciation for this style, that is to blame.

Thankfully, the final build-up has lots of pay-offs and really redeems the film for me, but it still ends on a somewhat odd note that doesn’t really stack up. You’ll find yourself asking “why did he/she do X, Y and Z?”. Whether this was the idea that Park had in mind when he cooked this up, I don’t know, but ultimately I didn’t care enough about the film to make me think this for long.

Stoker is an interesting piece of cinema in 2013. Its nods to the past will either thoroughly ignite your interest in it, or it’ll entirely put you off. If the trailers left you somewhat cold and perplexed, the film itself will do little to correct these opinions. However, if you love Hitchcock-era suspense classics, then you can pretty much disregard what I said in the past few paragraphs and thump another star onto the below score. I didn’t think the film was bad, far from it, but it just didn’t have enough pace or momentum to really engage me over its (relatively short) run time.

Whilst I actually found last week’s reviewed film, This Is 40, to be dark, it was for a completely different reason. This Is 40 painted a very realistic view of what life is like once you’ve “achieved” what you wanted to. But Stoker? Well, Stoker‘s an entirely different kettle of fish. A kettle of fish swimming in crude oil that’s being sucked into a black hole that ends in the negative zone ruled over by King Negative and his dark dominions. Yes, it’s that dark. And also slightly disturbing. If you’re curious, then head out and catch this film while you can. I can’t guarantee you’ll like what you see, but you’ll definitely have an opinion on the closing half of the film.

Phage Factor:

2.5 Stars

This Is 40 (2013)

This Is 40 (2013)

Getting old. It’ll happen to us all at some point or other. But what about that in-between period… and hitting 40? It’s a time when you sit back and re-evaluate your life. Did you honestly think you’d be with him / her / alone? How about those kids or lack thereof? We’re always filled with ambition and drive when we’re young: so many hopes, so many dreams. But unfortunately, not all of them are realised for every one of us. That’s where This Is 40 steps in… so you’ve turned 40, you’re married and have two kids… is this it? Is it the bliss you expected back when you were 22?

Bliss?

Bliss?

This Is 40 is the “spiritual successor” to Judd Apatow‘s Knocked Up. This time however, instead of focusing on the pregnancy part of a relationship, it hones in on that tipping point: a good few years into a relationship, when you’ve planted your roots, have a couple of kids, and have to contend with the trials and tribulations of real life. The film focuses in on the lives of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) and their two kids, Sadie and Charlotte (Maude & Iris Apatow, respectively), as Pete and Debbie approach their respective 40th birthdays. But all isn’t well in the household. The arrival of the big 4-0 scares Debbie and really highlights all the short-givings they have in their relationship.

Now, This Is 40 bills itself as a romantic comedy. It’s from Judd Apatow and was released on Valentine’s Day in the UK so all indications would point to yes, it’s a rom-com. But this film has a very serious undertone to it and it’s not a laugh-a-minute ride to the end. This isn’t Superbad. Now, I’m not nearing 40, in fact I won’t see that until the mid-2020’s, but I can still relate to all of their issues. If anything, this film succeeds at capturing a lot of the insecurities many of us has about life more than it succeeds at making us laugh about them. That’s not to say the film’s not funny and carrying some genuinely humorous moments, but you can’t get around the issues it raises.

This is 40 (2013)

I’m a fan of Paul Rudd. Some aren’t, but I am. And I thought he really played Pete with passion here. It wasn’t his normal “deadpan, aloof, cool man” performance. I’ve no doubts that Judd Apatow wrote the part for Rudd in particular, because it all just blends so seamlessly – he and the character are one. The reason the performance works is because of the counterbalance of Leslie Mann as Debbie. She too really brings the goods – maybe a little too much cheer and not enough sorrow, but she really conveys the emotions to the audience. The fact that I left the screening feeling somewhat saddened and deeply pessimistic about the future really shows that something worked here. I really believe it’s a combination of the protagonists’ writing and acting.

But then again, this isn’t the perfect movie. For a start, I just felt that it’s run time was just a bit too long. The film felt a bit bloated with so many other sub-plots woven into it. Whilst I’m glad they were there to add complexity to the film, some of them could have probably been left on the cutting room floor, or at least parts of them should have. After all, we all needed a bikini scene AND a bra and panties scene for Megan Fox didn’t we? Both of those certainly had to be in the final film.

Megan Fox in a bra also had to make the final cut here too...

Megan Fox in a bra also had to make the final cut here too…

So, who is this film for? I don’t know if I’d recommend it to budding couples or those that are newly heartbroken as it’ll just make you despair for your own life and all the trials that are flying your way in the coming decades. Younger audiences won’t get the resonance of what’s going on on-screen and won’t feel those emotions. This film is probably best viewed by those in those “This Is 40” style relationships, or those who’ve battled through it. Actually, especially the latter group, as you’re surely the ones that won’t leave the screening feeling glum, like The Phage. I’m not sure what I was truly expecting from This Is 40, but I certainly wasn’t expecting this strange sense of sorrow after I left…

This Is 40 is an interesting take on a “romantic comedy”. Sure, it has the romance and it has the comedy, but both aren’t always at the forefronf of your mind. Be especially¬†wary if you plan on taking your new boy / girlfriend to this. Similarly, if you’re newly single, and in your 20’s or 30’s, I’d avoid this too, as it’ll probably make you question your life. Then again, maybe you’re one of those carefree singletons and this movie will leave you feeling empowered that you’re not going to be shackled down, or as Jason Segel‘s character calls it, “doing a Clooney“.

This film, much like life, can throw a lot of curveballs at you over its run time. But also just like life, sometimes you need to sit through these curveballs and stay par for the course, because ultimately there’s something pretty darn good here. It may not be the “bliss” you were expecting when you bought your ticket (to the film, not life… I think that had something to do with your parents having one hell of a fun night after watching a far more romantic movie), but stick with it. It’s not the picture-perfect marriage / film, but it works.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star