Stoker by Park Chan Wook

Stoker by Park Chan-Wook

After India’s (played by Mia Wasikowska) father dies, her Uncle Charlie (played by Matthew Goode), who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother Evelyn (played by Nicole Kidman). She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.

Screenwriter Wentworth Miller has stated that this is not a vampire movie. To this I say, “Trust the tale, not the teller.”  Regardless of what Miller says, it’s a vampire film or not, Stoker is clearly playing to the beats of a vampire film underneath its surface.There are things at play that suggest this, Uncle Charlie is fixated with India and he preys on her. India seems to possess some kind of innocence or purity that is at stake of being corrupted. Lastly, the movie is called Stoker. That’s no accident.

It’s as if someone took a traditional vampire movie, folded it inside out, wore it like a bag on his head looking outside from within. That’s the way to watch Stoker. Anybody who says there is nothing happening in this story is not looking at the subtext. The subtext is the supertext, that’s where the story is taking place. Park Chan-Wook leaves a lot of empty space for the audience to ponder about what’s going on. There is a whole lot going on if you tune to the film’s grammar and look in the right places.

Matthew Goode has always had this steely piercing look that looks sinister and that quality is well used under Park’s direction. Park knows how to pull back and just shoot an actor in a certain pose to emote a mood or feeling. As Uncle Charlie, we never know what he’s thinking or if we can really trust his intentions. Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman give fine performances but Matthew Goode gives the standout performance. The real star of the film however is Park Chan-Wook himself. He elevates the script by adding a visual poetry that subtlely implies. Everything is played at such a low volume that the audience is unnerved waiting for the tension to crescendo.

A good companion piece to Stoker is Park Chan-Wook’s 2009 vampire horror film Thirst; it’s probably what got Park the job. This is probably one of the best English-language debut for an Asian director. It’s a smooth transition as his directorial stamp is very much present. You will need to put in more brain work for Stoker, but it pays off.

Kumaré by Vikram Gandhi

Kumaré by Vikram Ghandi

American filmmaker Vikram Gandhi transforms himself into Sri Kumaré, an enlightened guru from a fictional village in India, by adopting a fake Indian accent and growing out his hair and beard. Kumaré travels to Arizona to spread his made-up philosophy and gain sincere followers.

Kumaré documents a social experiment that was not well-planned and goes awry. Vikram Gandhi starts off by pretending to be a false prophet to make fun of religious people. But when he starts to gain sincere followers, he sees that these people have real-life problems and need hope and guidance, he starts to feel guilty. What was he expecting would happen?

The first half of the film is funny and disturbing in the way that it fulfills the entirety of Gandhi’s thesis. We laugh at these followers because we have a social distance from it. For the latter half of the film, it becomes uncomfortable as his followers start to become close with Sri Kumaré, telling him intimate details of their personal lives and asking him for advice. He fights with himself over how he should tell them. This is where the documentary lost me. I did not care one bit for Vikram. I was cringing for his followers and kept watching to see their reaction when the curtain was pulled before them. So in the end, do the ends justify the means? I personally do not think so. Other people may see it differently. To me, Vikram Gandhi becomes the person he set out to mock. The film celebrates its own mean-spiritedness at the end and it just left a bad taste in my mouth. I am not one to make fun of other people’s faith.

If there is anything positive to come out of Gandhi’s experiment, it’s that everybody has the potential to find peace within themselves, whether that’s religion, yoga, golf, knitting or gardening. People should believe in something that they can find happiness in, even if it’s not God.

But I already knew that before watching this film.