23 February 2015

A Family Affair

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I was once talking to my Mum when she turned with deadly seriousness and informed me that The Queen had ordered the hit on Princess Diana. I started to laugh because of how she'd delivered such conspiracy theorist bullshit with absolute certainty. Her eyes narrowed and, as if daring me to continue mocking, she asked “What, you don't think The Queen could have you killed?” After a pause, I took the dare and laughed even harder. Resigned to the fact that I wasn't going to indulge her paranoia, she delivered her final and most chilling warning. “Actually” she said quietly, “I wouldn't laugh about it if I were you”. What the fuck was she waffling on about? Usually my Mum is quite rational with her conversations, rarely venturing further than the subject of her two dogs or weekly caravan trips away. I never got to the bottom of why she was telling me this and it's now been so long that she claims not to remember it. In which case, all we can do is analyse what was said and try and work out what was really going on. Maybe she'd accidentally stumbled across clues as to our monarchy's murderous ways or perhaps it was something to do with the six cans of apple cider that she'd spent the night pouring down her throat. If we know what's good for us then I suppose we should never find out.
 
Speaking of weird families, mysteries that should be left as secrets, and situations that demand analysis, I recently saw Park Chan-Wook's excellent thriller Stoker. The film begins with the funeral of Mia Wasikowska's father and the arrival of her previously elusive Uncle Charlie. At first you might wonder why Wasikowska acts like a fucking weirdo until you meet her chronically lazy, slightly slutty, pisshead Mum, Nicole Kidman. Uncle Charlie moves in with the two weird women and begins to act in such a charming manner that it's hard not to find him suspicious. This isn't helped by the fact that he doesn't seem to have any provable account of his past and is using his charms to secretly ball both mother and daughter without concern that the other might find out. As Uncle Charlie gets more and more comfortable in the house, his presence seems to bring the worst out in everybody around him and before you know it, the family has gone bat-shit crazy. I know I'm not one to judge what ‘normal’ is but I think we can very safely count somebody as weird if they start frigging themselves off to the memory of a snapping neck.

The title ‘Stoker’ obviously hints towards this being a gothic horror with undercurrents of vampirism running though it and that's exactly what it is, I suppose. In fact, I watched this film with one of my closest chums who got through the whole movie believing it was actually about vampires... it's not. I mean, everything is always up for interpretation and you're welcome to believe whatever you like, but there's no twist at the end where Robert Pattinson turns up and mopes about like a twat. In fact the film is so rich in symbolism that arguably you could almost read into it whatever you like. Why was Wasikowska so absorbed by the cracking of an egg? And a spider crawled between her legs- did we really just witness an arachnid climbing up Alice's rabbit hole? Perhaps the joy is in unravelling the film’s hidden secrets or perhaps it's in just letting it wash over you like a moist blanket of mystery. Either way I'm sure this will be one of those movies that reveals more and more with each subsequent viewing. It's probably also worth mentioning that a huge inspiration on Stoker is Hitchcock’s film Shadow Of Doubt, although considering I've not seen it, I can't really say how. Maybe it's in its bleak but stylised mood; its hints towards being a gothic nightmare; or the fact that both films are about the arrival of a mysterious Uncle Charlie whose past is unknown and whose sinister secrets are uncovered by his young niece. Could be anything I suppose...

Now, I know Stoker isn't for everyone due to its obvious style that runs dangerously close to camp without ever quite stopping there and pitching its tent. However for those of us who aren't idiots and did love it, you have to wonder who should be given the most credit, the director or the writer? Obviously there's nothing to film without a script, but on paper this whole movie might seem potentially ludicrous! Kind of like Adam Wingard's The Guest but without the knowing John Carpenter humour and a few extra hints towards inter-family bonking. Obviously, that's not to say the script isn't any good as it's clearly brilliant. Written by Wentworth Miller, it's amazing that anybody associated with the anal-spaff that is Prison Break would even know what a good script was to read let alone to create, however there's no way that it could possibly have worked without a director as quirky, dark, stylised or meticulous as Park Chan-Wook. His Oldboy is one of my all time favourite movies and it's good to know that for his first English language film, he hasn't had his fucked-up edges filed down, and every shot feels slaved over, every image loaded with both meaning and ambiguity. Chan-Wook is as determined and confident here as Oh Dae-Su was when sticking a hammer in some bloke’s mouth and trying his hand at freestyle-dentistry. The movie is also loaded with cinematic references from the hand on the shower wall in Psycho to the pants-pissingly creepy, pants-pissing scene in The Exorcist.

So although the film’s greatness lies in the odd-couple brilliance of Chan-Wook and that boring fuck from Prison Break, the cast should certainly also be praised. Mia Wasikowska walks that fine line of being weird without being annoying and Matthew Goode plays charming, sinister, and seemingly mental without barely raising his voice. Perhaps the true revelation for me though was Nicole Kidman who I'd previously written off as being more wooden than Pinocchio's cock as he visits the Museum of Massive Mahogany Tits. Here she swaggers around the house with all the grace of a concussed, alcoholic gazelle and swoons over Uncle Charlie with about as much dignity as a street-corner whore who has too many stains and not enough teeth. Okay, maybe she's not that bad but you get the point. She's a posh skank who wants to bone her dead husband’s brother on the off chance that he might show her the good life. One of my favourite film critics, Mark Kermode, used to refer to her as Nicole Kindling and having seen some of the bollocks she's done, I was in agreement. The trailer alone for Grace Of Monaco made me want to rip out my eyes before the awkwardness and boredom that I felt became terminal. As it turns out, simply turning the trailer off was just as effective. I know that people enjoy Moulin Rouge but for me, this is the film where I finally saw what Kidman was capable of. There's a hatred in her eyes as she talks to her daughter here that's one of the most intense and terrifying things I've seen surrounded by ginger hair since Geri Halliwell did a high kick back in 1997.

So yeah, without wanting to delve into spoilers, I can only say that this film is amazing and has a conclusion that feels more than satisfying. I've just read Jon Ronson's book The Psychopath Test where it was claimed that Sissy Spacek's character was the real nutcase in Badlands and there's a touch of that here too. The whole thing is also obviously helped by the sounds of Clint Mansell who’s a modern day musical genius, as far as I'm concerned. His score for The Fountain is one of my all time favourites and although this doesn't quite reach those heights, it's certainly up there with Requiem For A Dream, Moon, and Filth. In each of these films, the music tends to start off quite slow and sinister before speeding up to a shocking and arse clenchingly tense conclusion. The same is true of Stoker which, like a Friday night in the pub, might seem slow and controlled to start with but easily ends with a whirling spiral of madness and violence. I'm sure not everybody will love this film as much as me but considering we live in a world of talk shows, I can promise it's a lot more artsy and meaningful than watching a ‘normal’ dysfunctional family on The Jeremy Kyle Show. This film features a scene in which two family members play the piano together so intently that one of them has an orgasm. With a dynamic as messed up as that, I suppose I should be grateful that all I have to put up with is an occasionally sozzled Mother threatening to murder me in a conspiracy with The Queen. Thanks for reading, motherfuckers, and see you next time. 


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