Mia Wasikowska, as India, whispers to open Stoker (Park Chan-wook, 2013). She whispers on a black screen, then on an obscured perspective, and a still screen. The whisper unsettles me. I don’t like when people whisper to me or near me; the same goes for film characters. The whisper here is meant to unsettle.
Stoker is a glamorous film, heavily stylised, and it’s beautiful. The interiors, walls, the buckets of ice-cream, the lighting, all gorgeous. But it’s all so obvious.
As a whole, the soundtrack in Stoker is not easy to accept, and not really easy to listen to. (Despite how much I adore Clint Mansell.) India is hypersensitive; she hears, smells, sees things closer than others do. This is a delicate perspective, needing measured treatment, but Park and his sound department butcher it with their soundscape. When she puts on a metronome and begins to play piano, it ticks loudly. Even when she’s upstairs, distant and removed, it continues to tick loudly. Her mother, Nicole Kidman, holds the weight with her thumb to stop it ticking, and when she removes her thumb it doesn’t restart again, which it should have. Style betrays expectation and this can’t be sustained. The camera movement in Stoker is slow, to emphasise the sound, and the senses. But when the senses know a better reality than the one being fictionalised for us on screen, things are destined to go wrong.
It’s easy to heavily stylise a film’s visual aesthetic and have it look great on a number of levels. I do think it goes too far in Stoker. And in addition to the visuals, the sound is too stylised, and the film suffers for this. It rings hollow.