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My 12 for ’13: Stoker & A Vampire Story Without Vampire

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 5…

Stoker is one of the most underrated gems of the year. Released early on, Chan-wook Park’s psychological horror easily gets lost in the shuffle. Which is a shame, because it’s a wonderfully disturbing little thriller, one crafted with an incredible eye for beauty. Even the name is somewhat appropriate, evoking the creator of the modern vampire story. Stoker is in essence a vampire movie made without a vampire, although Matthew Goode’s Uncle Charlie is a convenient stand-in.

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Handsome and mysterious, purportedly well-travelled and definitely sexual, it’s no wonder that Charlie is seldom seen outside during the day without his sunglasses on. The film even features a catalogue of Charlie’s globe-trotting adventures, tidied away in creepy letters. A nod to Stoker’s Dracula, perhaps? Charlie seems to come and go as he pleases, moves in almost supernatural silence, and exerts a strange control over those around him – primarily the women of the household.

Of course, Charlie isn’t actually a vampire. He’s something more monstrous. He’s something real. He’s a human predator. He’s the kind of person that leads people to tell vampire stories. He is an unsettling truth best disguised behind romantic gothic horror stories. The mythologies of vampires and werewolves speak to very real fears, after all – they give forms to horrors that people and society have difficulty articulating or discussing openly.

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Charlie is such a horror story. He is a family secret tucked away and never talked about. Charlie’s brother, Richard, never told his daughter about Charlie, even as he tried to prepare her for the day that she might need to protect the family against him. He took her hunting, never telling her why he did so. Even Charlie lies to young India, in letters that she never receives. His global travels are nothing more than an elaborate fantasy, to cover up for his extended stay inside a mental health institution.

Charlie isn’t supernatural, although he may at times appear to be. He is simply a manipulative sociopath. He is an overgrown manchild, banished from the family tree after the brutal murder of his younger brother. He is creepy and perverse and incestuous, violent and insecure. Ad the movie drags on, Stoker strips away Charlie’s mystique and his romance. We see more of Charlie for what he really is, a petty and bitter young man who desperately wants the love he so sorely feels that he deserves.

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Stoker is a gloriously uncomfortable film to watch, but it’s also absolutely beautiful. Part of that is down to the way that Chan-wook Park constructs his shots, making almost every frame of the movie look like a painting of Americana. Even the ice cream tubs that the family store in their freezer can’t help but evoke some sense of nostalgic for a long lost (and probably non-existent) past. The film is constructed beautifully, looking and sounding absolutely beautiful for the entirety of its runtime.

That skill in construction extends through to the cast, particularly the two leads. Matthew Goode is exceptional playing the role of Charlie, playing both the mysterious and romantic stranger and the spoilt manchild. Mia Wasikowska continues to prove herself one of the most interesting young actors of her generation, playing the coming of age of India Stoker, our heroine and the object of Charlie’s fixations.

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Chan-wook Park has constructed an exceptional horror here, cleverly and astutely playing up the more unsettling and unnerving aspects of the genre, demonstrating an uncanny awareness of how the genre works, and the fears (conscious and subconscious) that it plays on. Stoker is a deftly-produced horror thriller, and one of the most striking films of the year.

Our top twelve films of the year:

Honourable Mentions

12.) Blue Jasmine

11.) Lincoln

10.) Much Ado About Nothing

09.) Iron Man 3

08.) Philomena

07.) Only God Forgives

06.) Star Trek Into Darkness

05.) Stoker

04.) Gravity

03.) Rush

02.) Django Unchained

01.) Cloud Atlas

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2 Responses

  1. another I don’t like as much as you do. But it is certainly beautiful.

    And it is certainly a vampire story without a vampire. 😉

    • It is absolutely visually stunning. Like Only God Forgives, it sort of has a weird dream quality to it that is simply striking. Then again, I’m a guy who skews towards horror, so I’m probably predisposed to like it.

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