M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Three of my decade-long Retro-Best in Horror recap Countdowns begins officially on October 1, 2012 and goes through September 30, 2013. I have posted compilation lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t!

How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st, 2012 and September 30, 2013 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number—31. Again, I never call myself any kind of expert in horror. I simply watch a lot of horror films and love writing about them. Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!

Released on March 1, 2013 and available on digital download, On Demand and BluRay/DVD here!

STOKER (2013)

Directed by Chan-wook Park
Written by Wentworth Miller
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, David Alford, Peg Allen, Lauren E. Roman, Phyllis Somerville, Harmony Korine, Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich, Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney, Tyler von Tagen, Thomas A. Covert, Judith Godrèche
Find out more about this film here!

I don’t know if there is going to be any pushback on STOKER showing up so high in my top ten. I had considered placing it on the countdown in 2013, but thought it leaned more towards thriller/drama that true horror. Since then, I’ve kind of loosened my definition of horror, including some sci fi and dramatic films that I hadn’t considered in times past. I think if you start excluding films because they don’t fit perfectly into the horror mold, you’re going to miss some great films that may not be complete horror, but possess horror elements. Also, like many iconic thrillers of the past such as Hitchcockian classics like PSYCHO and REAR WINDOW or even modern thrillers like GRAND PIANO and THE INVITATION, some great moments of tension and suspense can be more horrifying than the meanest slasher or most nightmarish monster. So, I’m pretty ok with including Chan-wook Park’s devious little yarn STOKER into the mix.

After the sudden death of her father Richard (Dermont Mulroney), teenage India (Mia Wasikowska) is left mourning the loss with her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) in their large estate. At the funeral, Richard’s estranged brother Charles (Matthew Goode) arrives stating he has been travelling around the globe since long before Mia was born and Richard married Evelyn. An outcast at school and resentful to her mother, Mia develops a curious interest in Charles, who she finds full of intrigue and mystery. But as Charles makes his way into the trust of the family and Evelyn begins to show interest in him romantically, a darkness within Charles shows through. This should scare Mia away, but only heightens her interest in this mysterious stranger.

OK, so upon going into this film, like many of you, I assumed this was a story about Bram Stoker. The name is pretty ominous and this being marketed as a thriller, I thought somehow it would tie into the classic Dracula creator. So my feelers were up while I was watching STOKER to see if there were any ties or nods to good old Bram. While I do think that Chan-wook Park and Wentworth Miller made a distinct story that could be viewed as a separate entity from the famous writer, I was able to notice some instances that could be seen as “homage.” One of the things I noticed is that both DRACULA and STOKER involves a dark figure entering the life of an innocent aristocrat. Early in the film, Charles says he has been asked to live at the Stoker estate by Evelyn, but that he requires India to invite him to live there as well. This could be seen as a variation of the rule that a vampire must be invited in order to enter a residence. Charles never bears actual fangs, but he is quite dangerous and becomes more so as the film goes on. His presence perverts the innocent India and seduces Evelyn, much like the way Dracula interacts with Mina and Lucy. I know this could be seen as grasping at straws, but those thematic and minor details stood out to me while watching and I couldn’t help but jot them down.

Much could be derived from the sheer heft of theme in STOKER. It’s a story about innocence lost. It’s a story about rebellion. It’s a story about deceit and betrayal. It’s a story about class and relationships between man and woman. It’s a story about taboo subject matter like patricide and incest. On top of that, Chan-wook Park makes STOKER a film that could be dissected for days in terms of the way he uses thematic imagery and meaningful shot composition. I could fill a page with specific shots and scenes that are so beautifully realized that it speaks volumes without a single word. The scene where India and Charles play the piano is erotic, mysterious, and utterly enthralling as he basically seduces her and brings India to orgasm simply be sitting next to her. While the older/younger dynamic is well tread territory in everything from LOLITA to LOST IN TRANSLATION, Chan-wook Park highlights the real dangers and temptation of this type of relationship in ways that many directors wouldn’t have the stones to approach. I felt enthralled, but then shameful that I felt that way, all in one scene and this is a deliberate manipulation by the director—speaking to his skills as both a visual and dramatic storyteller.

Mia Wasikowska shines in this film that highlights the depths of her character of India. She enters the story as a pretentious and rebellious teen, sulking around the house and offering snide remarks like a slightly older Wednesday Addams. She is morbidly fixated on death and intentionally rebellious and standoffish to everyone, even her family. She doesn’t even like to be touched, a detail that is made crucial later on in the story. Wasikowska commands every scene she is in, allowing her to change, grow, and transform from naïve teen rebel to dangerous adult with full control of her destiny. It is fascinating to see her India learn, grow, fail, recover, and flourish.

Nicole Kidman & Matthew Goode are also integral parts as to why this film is as good as it is. Kidman radiates with tragic beauty. Obliviously over-medicated and often drunk, she is lost in her own sorrow and unable to see the trouble brewing right under her nose as Charles worms his way into the family. Goode plays the perfect sociopath/psychopath. His wide-eyed stare is not over the top, but subtly menacing under the guise of good manners and proper etiquette. The contrast between the base instincts at play against the pristine and immaculate mansion setting is an amazing dance orchestrated by Goode’s dark intruder. The entire film basically hinges on this love triangle between India, Charles, and Evelyn and each plays performs their part expertly.

Why is this erotic thriller in a horror countdown? Because things get pitch black by the third act of STOKER. It’s about the relationship between three people, but the places this film goes is deeper and danker than most horror films. This is not only a film that offers up a kill count and murder scenes, it also transcends you into forbidden territories that make you feel icky for witnessing. The seduction of both Evelyn and India by Charles is difficult to watch, but director Chan-wook Park makes it all so enticing to look at you simply can’t look away.

If you’ve been turned off by all of this talk about taboo, eroticism, relationships, and soap operatics, I hope you’ll put that aside and give STOKER a chance. It is a dark and rich descent into hell where no one comes out unscathed, especially the viewer.

THE 2012-2013 COUNTDOWN!

#8 – EVIL DEAD 2013
#14 – WITHER
#16 – JUG FACE
#23 – V/H/S/2
#24 – MON AMI

M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.

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