The opening censor’s remarks referred to “Scenes of strong sex, strong violence and sexual violence” and I wondered quite what kind of film I’d let myself in for.
As it was, the violence was more to the fore than the sex and, though it made me wince a couple of times, the scenes were not excessively graphic – more in the line of Hitchcockian discomfort than slasher-like, though not for the very faint-hearted. It was certainly less ‘in your face’ than Lady Vengeance, which I watched last year, to which it bears little stylistic resemblance despite an army of Korean and other asian technicians Park has brought in to make this film; after the opening sequences, the extremely stylised camerawork swiftly settles down to a more conventional usage.
The title hints at Dracula’s Bram and there is certainly a strong gothic sensibility running through the story, depite most of the action taking place on sunny days, with the links between sex and violence here pretty explicit, and also in oblique references – scenes of Mia Wasikowska’s lead, India, calmly letting spiders run up her leg put me in mind of Renfield, eating spiders in the asylum. India is a strange character, cold and distant with a phobia about personal touching and a stillness about her that is menacing in itself.
The film opens with some disorientating ultra-stylised scenes of India in a field, with her voiceover talking about herself in slightly cryptic terms – which become clearer later in the film. The action then shifts to her 18th birthday, as she seeks out the present that her father always leaves her but, in the box instead of the shoes that she has received every previous year, there is a mysterious key. Shortly, she hears that her father, Richard Stoker, a successful architect has died in a car fire. At the funeral, in the distance, India sees a mysterious man, observing them. At the wake, this man is introduced to her by her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) as her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). Charlie is friendly and charismatic but also slightly sinister and India takes against him, though Evelyn seems utterly charmed. India confronts her mother as to why she had never even been told about Charlie’s existance and Evelyn reveals that, as Charlie has been travelling the world, she herself knows barely anything about him.
Charlie makes himself useful and ingratiates himself further, becoming an integral part of the household, especially after the housekeeper disappears, and Evelyn, and even India, seem to be almost hypnotised by him. There are hints that he might be more than he seems – he certainly seems to know more about India than he should – and there are hints of something almost supernatural about him.
Wasikowska’s performance is excellent, blank and detached and yet always compellingly watchable. Goode, too, is strong though I am less enamoured of Kidman, who just looks a little bland and characterless; her character might be a finishing school-trained trophy wife, but she doesn’t bring quite enough ‘inner life’ to the character for me to much care about her.
The ending, though it largely goes where I think it should, is also a slight letdown, being slightly anticlimactic; it just lacks the menace I think it should, perhaps because I don’t care enough about the Evelyn character for her particular plight to matter to me.
Creepy and chilling, good but not great.