By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on March 27, 2013

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Dear Wing Lee
Art Director

Dear Wing,

You know what separates a family drama worthy of the big screen from a lamentable movie-of-the-week? Art direction. More than stars, more than story, this attention to mood and detail is really the artistic extravagance that says: "don't just watch me, experience me". Of course, I'm preaching to the choir; based on your stunning work in Stoker, you're clearly allergic to doing anything by the numbers. It's a shame more people involved with this project weren't following your cues.

Most of the credit for the look and feel of this film will undoubtedly be heaped on South Korean director Chan-wook Park, best known for making the wild and wonderful Oldboy _(2003). _Stoker marks his much-anticipated American film debut, and it's a strange choice. The screenplay by Wentworth Miller (the star of _Prison Break _and Mariah Carey videos) focuses on the return of an estranged uncle (Matthew Goode) who comes home to live with his brother's widow (Nicole Kidman) and her just-turned-18-year-old daughter (Mia Wasikowska). The set-up is just that simple, so atmosphere helps elevate the genre and nuance the foreshadowing.

It begins with a beautiful and confident minimal opening sequence that punctuates the credits with simple motion-tracking and freeze frames. This early flare opens the door for additional flourishes throughout the film, which come in the form of swooping cameras, swaying lights and playfully tricky transitions. There's a wonderfully rhythmic pacing to many of these edits, gently increasing tension without ever allowing the film to feel like a horror film. Off-centered framing also helps to accentuate the modern-day American Gothic work you placed on the walls and within rooms, adding a sense of claustrophobia and confined beauty.

The performances are also treated like an extension of your own meticulously arranged work - emoting with minimal energy and precisely occupying each new position within the frame. Kidman delivers one of her signature glassy-eyed performances, like a porcelain doll about to shatter under pressure. Goode uses his deep, soothing voice to full effect, and benefits from some subtle but effective double eye-lighting that cues us into his inner demons. And Wasikowska (looking evermore like the Millennial's answer to Clare Danes) has a strange brand of beauty that is appropriately engaging without being titillating - even when her character masturbates in the shower (albeit to the thought of a murder).

Yes, fetishization plays a pretty strong part in Stoker. From the characters' private obsessions to your own rigorous arrangements, it's all so very laboured and manicured. And as a static piece of art, that's fine. But there's a soul and purpose missing to the film. I want to remember more than just pretty images when I walk out of a theatre.

Otherwise, looking good.


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