Tag Archives: disturbing

Review – Stoker (18) [2013]

Stoker - title banner2

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Chan-Wook Park – Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance

Producers:

  • Ridley Scott – Body of Lies, Prometheus, Welcome to the Punch
  • (The late) Tony Scott – The Taking of Pelham 123, Unstoppable, Out of the Furnace

Cast:

  • Nicole Kidman – Eyes Wide Shut, Rabbit Hole, Before I Go To Sleep
  • Mia Wasikowska – Defiance, Alice In Wonderland, The Double
  • Matthew Goode – Match Point, Watchmen, Belle
  • Jacki Weaver – The Five-Year Engagement, Silver Linings Playbook, Haunt
  • Phyllis Somerville – Little Children, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Double
  • Lucas Till – X-Men: First Class, Battle: Los Angeles, X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Alden Ehrenreich – Twixt, Beautiful Creatures, Running Wild

Music Composer:

What is the purpose of film trailers and movie marketing campaigns? The answer might seem ostensibly obvious: to whet people’s appetites to buy cinema tickets and, eventually, to entice them to buy DVDs. While this understandably keeps the wheels of the Hollywood machine spinning, does this mean that trailers and marketing campaigns should give too much of a film’s plot away and/or misrepresent a movie in the interests of money? Indeed, some of Stoker’s problems stem from its trailer and its advertisements.

Charlie (Matthew Goode) watching look like a stalker as his niece, India (Mia Wasikowska), walks to school.

Charlie (Matthew Goode) watching look like a stalker as his niece, India (Mia Wasikowska), walks to school.

Stoker begins with the death of Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney). Not long after his funeral, Richard’s daughter, India (Mia Wasikowska), learns that her father had a creepy brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode), and that he will be moving into the house. He has been invited to stay by India’s unstable mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). But no sooner does Charlie arrive, people start to disappear, and this has a troubling effect upon India.

One may think that the above discloses too much of the Stoker’s gripping, but strange and purposeless plot. Yet, the above gives away less than the trailer. If anything, like with those for 2012 and The Hobbit I: An Unexpected Journey, Stoker’s trailer portrays the movie’s storyline more succinctly in just under two and a half minutes than the actual film does in 98 minutes. Thus, far from attracting people to see Stoker, the trailer ensures that viewers don’t need to pay to see the movie. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the trailer?

Charlie looking disturbingly interested in his niece as he helps her play the piano.

Charlie looking disturbingly interested in his niece as he helps her play the piano.

Worse, Stoker has been promoted as an ‘erotic thriller.’ However, this is misdirection, at best, and misrepresentation, at worst. This is because there’s (sadly) not nearly enough eroticism in the film to justify its selling-point (and this is not just in comparison to steamy erotic thrillers like Eyes Wide Shut and Basic Instinct II). This means that (the promoters have cynically done their job and that) Stoker can only disappoint people who were misled about the nature of the film.

That is not to say that audiences won’t enjoy Stoker’s (few) merits. The music is eerie and unsettling, mirroring Matthew Goode’s unnerving (if narrowly more than one-dimensional) performance. Nicole Kidman is very good, if under-employed, as the unbalanced and irresponsible mother, stuffed with triteness. And Mia Wasikowska plays quite well, too, in a bizarre and paradoxical role as the coming-of-age daughter, without giving viewers any reason to empathise with her character. The rest of the cast, including Jacki Weaver, as aunty Gwendolyn; Phyllis Somerville, as the cook; Lucas Till, as one of the school bullies; and Alden Ehrenreich, as India’s friend, among others, add so little to the plot that they might as well not have bothered agreeing to be part of the project.

India brushing her mother's hair. Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) almost does not know where she is after waking up in the middle of the night drunk, as usual.

India brushing her mother’s hair. Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) almost does not know where she is after waking up in the middle of the night drunk, as usual.

If the oddness of the storyline and performances do not keep audiences on their toes, Stoker’s setting has the ability to keep them guessing as to what era the film is meant to be set in. By deduction, one can work out that the film is meant to be based in 2012. While there might be flat-screen televisions in some of the rooms of the Stoker household, the house itself looks like it is from either (or a mixture of) the 1950s or the early 1990s. Moreover, India might employ a modern hairstyle, but the clothes she wears hint at a 1950s theme, if not earlier. One could argue that this helps to give the movie a more bizarre ambience, which, to a limited extent, it does. Yet, there is a fine balance between doing this and getting it wrong, and in the case of Stoker, it looks as if director Chan-Wook Park could not make up his mind as to what epoch he wanted to set the film in.

Over-all, Stoker is a peculiar blend of weirdness and captivation that had the potential to be so much better. The acting is average and there are numerous flaws and predictabilities in the storyline. Nevertheless, more than anything, the film’s problems are due to its trailer and the advertising campaign that accompanied the movie. Considering how interesting Stoker’s trailer looks, and that the film was billed as an ‘erotic thriller,’ one goes away from the movie feeling let down and that Park missed a great opportunity to make something different and potentially special.

PG’s Tips

Advertisements

Review – The Skin I Live In (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

For a psychological thriller to be worth its while, it invariably has to venture into disturbing realms to the extent that one wonders what sort of a person came up with the ideas. This was arguably the case with Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and Darren Aranofsky’s Requiem For A Dream and Black Swan. The Skin I Live In, despite being very different to the above-mentioned films, successfully takes us once again into this unsettling territory.

Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) giving the classic 007 pose.

The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito) is a Spanish film, based on Thierry Jonquet’s book, Tarantula. The movie centres round Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas – The Mask of Zorro, Shrek I-IV, Puss In Boots), a genius but deeply troubled plastic surgeon, who specialises in (unethical) skin repair and enhancement. After his teenage daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez – Shiver, Cowards, The Pelayos), is raped by a boy her own age, called Vicente (Jan Cornet – The Night of the Brother, Camino, Red Lights), Robert decides to kidnap Vicente and punish him. But what does Robert plan to do with Vicente? Does the former wish to use the latter as his laboratorial guinea pig? Or does Robert have something more distressing in mind?

The plot is intelligent and absorbing, with a very unnerving twist. (Don’t worry, no spoilers in this review.) Yet, the storyline suffers from a general lack of clarity. First, one has difficulty knowing which year he/she is watching. Scenes may roll into one another smoothly, but the film skips regularly back and forth over a six year period in a confusing way. Second, one is never sure of Robert’s intentions, even by the end.

Moreover, there are some loose-ends in the plot, and other parts of it are left without purpose or proper explanation, such as the sub-story near the beginning about Robert’s half-brother, Zeca (Roberto Álamo – Football Days, Take My Eyes). Arguably, the reason for the lack of clarity is because the director, Pedro Almodóvar (Talk To Her, Volver, Mina), has gone for a more artistic-style of film, like Lost In Translation and The American. This means that there is relatively little dialogue throughout The Skin I Live In. Instead, one has to figure out the message of the scene via, at times, ambiguous expressions and body-language, particularly from the main character, Robert.

Robert after finding his daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez), raped.

Playing Robert, the James Bond-/George Clooney-esq Banderas is without doubt the star of the film. In a superb display, Banderas exemplifies an intelligent, stony-faced man filled with tragedy, spite and (perturbing) ambition. No other member of the cast comes close to his level of performance. Marisa Paredes (All About My Mother, The Devil’s Backbone, Mina) may not do a bad job playing Robert’s mother, Marilia. But Marilia lacks the depth of Robert’s personality, which is revealed when she is given the chance to explain herself during a heart-to-heart with the gorgeous Vera (Elena Anaya – Talk To Her, Van Helsing, Room In Rome). Similarly, Elena Anaya, Jan Corbit and Roberto Álamo suffer from the same problems, and aren’t given ample time to express themselves. This, just like aspects of the plot, is to the movie’s detriment.

The quality of some of the acting lets the film down; yet, the same cannot be said for the music. It might sound unconventional and strange, but apart from the one scene with techno music (which is completely out of place) the music achieves Almodóvar’s ambition of giving the scene an ominous and tense feel. (One strike at high a piano key every few seconds; one hit of the drum over the same amount of time; and regular short, sharp notes from string-instruments are not classic ways of building eeriness or tension. Then again, it makes a refreshing change from tacky horror films, like Scream and The Eye, which adopt unbearably long notes from string-instruments, followed by a sudden crescendo to make viewers jump out of their skin.)

Robert's captive, Vicente (Jan Cornet), chained to a wall and drinking from a bucket.

Just as the music sounds odd throughout The Skin I Live In, so too are the aesthetics. Robert’s stunning mansion-cum-residency for his ‘patients’ is filled with large paintings of naked people, with unnaturally round heads and no faces. Just by seeing these, one gets the impression that Robert has some weird tastes long before the film comes to its mentally repelling and horrifying conclusion.

Ultimately, The Skin I Live In has its drawbacks and could have been less confusing. Nevertheless, Antonio Banderas performs brilliantly; and the unconventional nature of the film and the unusual storyline make for psychosomatically disturbing viewing. To Almodóvar’s credit, the film is not just a spin-off of an Aranofsky movie, and adds something new to the genre. Still though, just like with other psychological thrillers, by the end of The Skin I Live In one is likely to question the (in)sanity of the man who put this film together.

PG’s Tips