Join us at the virtual video counter with our series “A Favorite Movie”: Best Video staff & friends make recommendations

One of the great things about Best Video Film & Cultural Center is exchanging recommendations about movies. While BVFCC is temporarily closed to support social distancing during the pandemic, we decided to solicit movie recommendations from staff and friends.

The premise of the series is “A Favorite Movie,” not necessarily “The” favorite movie of contributors. Members, friends, and supporters of Best Video Film & Cultural Center talk about movies they like—and why they like them.

Here are the contributions to date, starting with Best Video founder and original owner Hank Paper, talking about the Argentinian film “The Last Suit”:

Here’s composer and singer Brian Robinson talking up his un-ironic affection for “Hudson Hawk”:

Neal Damiano likes “Valley Girl,” featuring Nicolas Cage’s first starring role:

Best Video staffer Mike Wheatley recommends “Galaxy Quest” as both a great comedy and great sci-fi film for the family:

New Haven Independent arts editor and musician Brian Slattery hymns the virtues of Spanish director Julio Medem’s “Lovers of the Arctic Circle”:

Documentary filmmaker, musician, and DJ contributes with a paean to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul”:

BVFCC member Kevin Munley and his son Yan Patrick have a special place in their heart for Star Wars Episode V aka “The Empire Strikes Back”:

Storyteller, writer, screenwriter, and educator Saul Fussiner praises “Bottle Rocket,” director Wes Anderson’s feature debut:

BVFCC member and Institute Library Operations Manager Eva Geertz picks a Coen Brothers dark horse, “Intolerable Cruelty,” for her choice:

Writer, musician, and pie-maker Val McKee offers up an appreciation of the 1985 film “Fandango”:

Rob Harmon’s Picks 5/17/16: “The Witch”

Rob_photo_031715_WebTHE WITCH (dir. Robert Eggers, 2015)

New England, 1630: a family consisting of a father, mother, and four children are exiled from their Puritan settlement for what are called “prideful conceits.” The father, William (Ralph Ineson), contends that it is they who are the true followers of God.

Pushed out of one remote outpost in the New World into an even more remote waste, they settle, after some time, on the edge of a dark forest. Eventually, another baby is born, Samuel, who, while being watched over one day by the oldest child, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), disappears during an innocent game of peek-a-boo. The camera shows – or seems to show – an elderly female stealing away with the child. The family begins to unravel.

Robin Wood once stated that, in a horror film, “normality is threatened by the monster.” If this reliable formula holds true, then Robert Eggers’s THE WITCH presents a satisfying complication: more slow-burner or folk tale (the film is, in fact, subtitled “A New-England Folktale”) than boogeyman body-count or spine-tingler. Normality is definitely threatened but it is hard to say by whom or even by what.

In spite of its title, the monster here is a remarkably disembodied force. While there definitely appears to be a malevolent being crouching in wait in the woods, at the edge of reason, much of the horror here is committed by one family member against another. For example, to make ends meet, William surreptitiously sells his wife Katherine’s (Kate Dickie) treasured silver cup in order to buy hunting supplies. Though he eventually owns up to the transgression, it is too late to spare Thomasin who has already been withering under the implications of guilt due to Samuel’s disappearance, setting the forces of familial disintegration firmly into motion.

The_WitchLike Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” one senses that these regular folk are perched – dangling – over the flames. In an existence built upon faith, the implication seems to be that, once the infection of doubt seeps in, everything civilized goes down like a house of cards. Worse, in a world built upon repression, woe unto those who throw the gates wide open….

Horror is a genre which makes its capital through the building of discordancy and unease on the peripheries of perception: most often through visuals but effectively, as well, through sound (see, for example, THE SHINING or the recent IT FOLLOWS). THE WITCH succeeds in these respects in unexpected ways. While its stark beauty – its unburnished wilderness and murky interiors shot through with shafts of natural sunlight or threatening to swallow up the meager flicker of a candle, its achingly spare score and sound effects – invites the viewer to look, the sense of imminent menace dares the viewer to continue that very act of looking. After all, the truest and most intuitive laws of horror films are that the viewer is only as safe as the present moment allows and that the act of looking, itself, is infused with danger. At its best, THE WITCH attracts as it repels: the camera’s steady, unwavering gaze, classically-framed tableaux, and hauntingly minimal score pulling the viewer in opposite directions, making for a queasily satisfying experience.

His debut feature, Eggers writes and directs this with surprising assurance and with a rigorous naturalism rare in the genre, suggesting more of Bergman’s THE VIRGIN SPRING or Malick’s THE NEW WORLD than THE EXORCIST or THE OMEN. Eggers is aided by an excellent cast, headed by Ineson, Dickie, and the radiant Taylor-Joy, but also including Harvey Scrimshaw, who plays brother Caleb with wide-eyed earnestness, Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson as a creepy pair of twins, and an equally unsettling goat named Black Phillip in the definition of a scene-stealing animal role (hint: he has some of the better lines in the movie). Great care is taken across the board with costumes (Eggers was a former costume designer, himself), production design, and accurate recreation of New England accents of the time. Expressionistic flourishes appear just frequently enough to make the viewer squirm, offering a superbly understated creep-out factor.

A bit like later Kubrick or Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN, THE WITCH is calibrated like a tonal pitch which builds in intensity to an inexorable conclusion, the hands of fate pushing events forward. This strangely-wrought amalgamation of art film and horror movie may fail to please either extreme, yet is perfectly appropriate to our strange times.

Rob Harmon’s Picks 10/27/15

Rob_photo_031715_WebHalloween Testimonial for Best Video

“It’s a perfect night for mystery and horror. The air itself is filled with monsters.”

– Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Ah yes, Halloween is here and all that we associate with it: crisp, cold evenings; leaves changing and falling to the ground, crunching beneath our feet; and, of course, candy – sticky and cloyingly sweet on the tongue. Sunset comes a little earlier each day: like a theater’s lights dimming, we slip into another frame of mind, subconsciously giving ourselves over to a greater sense of fantasy and the desire for sensation… much like the experience, in fact, of watching movies!

What better way to celebrate Halloween than with a movie or even a beloved TV special from Best Video? Of course, scary movies are the order of the day, but one need not feel hemmed in by shivers and shocks: there are plenty of delightful classics (I MARRIED A WITCH, ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, BELL BOOK AND CANDLE), “camp” classics (PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, TROLL 2, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW), as well as family-friendly fare (GREMLINS, HOCUS POCUS, THE MONSTER SQUAD, FRANKENWEENIE, etc., etc.) which are perfectly appropriate for the season.

And yet, though I’ve seen a lot of scary movies in my life, I’ll tell you what would be really frightening: a world without Best Video.

I would be remiss if I did not mention here the upcoming handover of this beloved neighborhood institution from Hank Paper — who opened the business 30 years ago — to the Best Video Film and Cultural Center, a new non-profit board charged with running the video store, café, and performance space and guiding us towards the future. This is the culmination of well over a year’s worth of tireless work on the part of Mr. Paper, the board, and our staff. In essence, this is a critical moment in the life-story of this brick-and-mortar establishment and we need support and involvement from the community.

I have lost track of how many people have come up to me over time and told me that they grew up going to Best Video and now bring their own kids. Some of those grown-up “kids” are now even studying film and working in the film industry. This is no coincidence: Best Video U. is an education unparalleled… and cheaper, too, if you compare late fees to tuition!

Speaking of the future, in BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II, Marty McFly travels from the year 1985 to the once-unfathomable year of 2015. Isn’t it ironic that Best Video has traversed that same time period?! Why, one could say that the store itself is a sort of DeLorean time machine… except, of course, without those cool flip-up doors and a flux capacitor! Best Video is a time machine, allowing one to travel freely backwards and forwards in time. We may not have kooky stuff like hoverboards and flying cars in our garages just yet, but, thank goodness, we still have Best Video down the street! Here’s to 30 years… and more!

Okay, enough talk. Here’s a review:

It_FollowsIt Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell, 2015)

People watch scary movies for all sorts of different reasons. There are simply innumerable options along the continuum: roller coaster thrill rides, calibrated to deliver maximum jolts to teenagers; atmospheric slow-burners; very mildly creepy kid-friendly stuff.

I’m not completely certain what IT FOLLOWS is. Like any horror film, though, there is a set-up: girl, Jay (THE GUEST’s Maika Monroe), meets boy, Hugh (Jake Weary). They have sex. Afterwards, Hugh drugs Jay and, once she awakens, informs her that he has passed “something” on to her (and it’s not what you think): “This thing, it’s gonna follow you. Somebody gave it to me and I passed it to you…. It can look like someone you know or it can be a stranger in the crowd, whatever helps it get close to you. It can look like anyone.” Jay, it turns out, is now irrevocably in the cross-hairs of some indefinable “it” and will be mercilessly stalked by this ponderously-moving-but-never-sleeping, shape-shifting, malevolent wraith until she, in turn, has sex with someone else, passing on the ghostly manifestation like an unwanted chain letter. Yikes.

Some may roll their eyes at this as merely so much millennial drama or nonsense. The plot, certainly, has obvious metaphoric possibilities, and the reader is free to fill in any that they choose (anything from sexually-transmitted diseases to cyberstalking, etc.), yet it would be a disservice to the film to simply end there.

Director David Robert Mitchell (responsible for the ethereal coming-of-age story THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER) injects the film with grit and moments of implacable beauty. Mitchell, aside from his obvious knowledge of horror films and their genre conventions, further infuses his film with a class-consciousness that is both savvy and surprising (at one point the protagonists trace the malignant threat to the slums… and, yet, is it really from there or a better part of town?), proving that genre films are oftentimes better suited (or at least more seamless) at exploring serious issues than so-called “message movies.”

Mike Gioulakis’s camera jitteringly probes the horizon — the modern urban ruins of Detroit and its faceless suburbs — seemingly searching out imminent threats, the protagonists magnetically drawn to open spaces as they attempt to combat and/or escape their nightmarish horror vacui. Yet, while Jay and her friends flee from various dangers, we are also treated to the dreamy interludes which form the meat of their existence. At these moments the camera seems to linger – quite unexpectedly – dwelling on innocuous details such as the shimmering surface of a backyard pool, dirty laundry littering the floor of a teenager’s room, or sunset as one flies down the interstate with a few friends in the backseat.

In this queasy environment adults barely register, often with their backs turned to the camera, their voices barely audible. This is undoubtedly the world of the young, their hopes and regrets, and Mitchell ably creates a frighteningly claustrophobic space for it: drab Americana, drained of its meaning… an empty landscape waiting to be filled with incipient horrors, making for a chilling parable about youth today.

Special mention should be made of the music by composer Rich Vreeland, known as Disasterpeace (he has principally worked in video games up to this point). The synth-y strains of his score perfectly suiting the velvety tones of the film’s images and rhythms. In this respect, IT FOLLOWS links with a classic horror film tradition, its progressive score matching that of the music of such milestones as PSYCHO, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, SUSPIRIA, and THE SHINING in their sheer ability to shock and disrupt the viewer. (A hint: turn up the volume on this one!)

The truth is, IT FOLLOWS is many things: cynical, artsy, dreamy, beautiful… as well as the most ambitious horror film to emerge from the U.S. in a long time. It’s also pretty frickin’ scary.

Rob Harmon’s recommendations 11/19/13


Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksBARBARA (dir. Christian Petzold, 2012)

The impressive new German political thriller BARBARA depicts life in the former German Democratic Republic (or East Germany), but, whereas most films paint a picture of the Soviet Bloc countries in terms of black-and-white, director Christian Petzold wisely chooses to focus on the bleak and dehumanizing ephemera of everyday life—such as busted wall sockets and a strictly-monitored bathing schedule—and the pure dug-in determination of its inhabitants to survive. This is a landscape—seemingly sparse and quiet—populated by survivors, spiritually wounded and maimed though they may be; where the West is such a capricious wonderland far, far away that two hushed women can stare transfixedly at the pages of a garish, smuggled-in jewelry catalogue; and where even villains—especially villains—have human sides: this society may be air-tight but it is far from airless, permitting some room to breathe.

The story takes place in 1980, a year in which much of the GDR was transfixed upon the Olympic Summer Games in Moscow. Dr. Barbara Wolff (veteran actress Nina Hoss) arrives in the provinces to take up a post at a small pediatric hospital. As it turns out this humble position is a far cry from the fast-track career in medicine that she was once charting in Berlin: Barbara has been officially “relocated” due to the fact that she has requested an exit visa from the GDR, a fall from grace which most in this society of few secrets instantly recognizes and pounces upon. She is sullen and remote, spurning the companionship of her colleagues, particularly the sincere and love-sick Dr. André Reiser (Ronald Zehrfeld), which right away earns her the reputation of a cold, big city snob to go on top of her apparent political crimes. Yet it soon becomes clear that Barbara has a secret connection to the West and one which she aims to exploit, this in spite of the watchful eyes of her neighbors and the local Stasi agent’s (Rainer Bock) withering attention, resulting in humiliating searches of her flat and her person at seemingly any time, day or night.

Though Barbara is increasingly drawn into the provincial life of the hospital around her and better learns to see the world from André’s humanistic viewpoint she still retains her ultimate desire to escape to the West… doesn’t she?

Barbara tells the story of the GDR in an intimate, restrained fashion, focusing on the life of the title character and her relationships with those around her, especially the lovelorn André and a hard-luck young patient named Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer) for whom she forms a strong and  endearing maternal attachment. The performances in the film are understated and powerful, with particular praise going to the gutsy Hoss in the title role. The cinematography, editing, and production design are all first-rate and refreshingly side-step the typical clichés of depicting life under a totalitarian regime in broad strokes and severe gestures, focusing instead on the human-scale sadness of a society divided against itself.

Petzold, who previously gained attention for his drama YELLA (2007) (also starring Hoss), won the Silver Bear as Best Director for Barbara at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, heralding perhaps a breakthrough for him, as well as his willowy star, Hoss. Barbara succeeds as a meditation on the life-draining paranoia and amnesia inherent to life under such cruel circumstances, but also ultimately reveals the strength which can unexpectedly come in dark times.

For an alternate but equally-moving take on this same subject matter be sure to see (if you have not already) the widely-heralded 2006 GDR-set drama/thriller THE LIVES OF OTHERS.

Rob Harmon’s recommendations 11/12/13



The inventory of movies here at Best Video is vast: with tens of thousands of titles and over 200 sections the collection is so vast that even an employee like me can find myself getting lost in its depths from time-to-time! And with such a huge catalogue there is an ever-present danger: that movies – even great ones – can fall between the cracks.

Take the work of French director Jean Grémillon, for example. If you have not heard of Grémillon you are certainly not alone: in a career which spanned from the 1920’s to the 50’s Grémillon tends to be overshadowed by his poetic realist contemporaries like Renoir, Carné, or Duvivier. I was unaware, myself, until about ten years ago when I was living in New York and was lucky enough to go, on a whim, one night to see Grémillon’s 1937 film GUELE d’AMOUR. I was completely won over by this fatalistic love story about a cocksure military officer and lothario, played by Jean Gabin, both meeting his match and brought to his knees by a beautiful woman of luxury, played by Mireille Balin. The emotions at work were outsized and a little volcanic, sure, but they were also true and hit home. From then on I caught Grémillon’s films any chance that I could.

Aiding the cause of making Grémillon’s name better known is the Criterion Collection, which graciously released a trio of outstanding films of his on DVD last year, all penned by poetic realist stalwarts such as Jacques Prévert and Charles Spaak, starring the radiant French leading lady Madeleine Renaud, and all made during the German occupation. Appropriately enough, the set is entitled Jean Grémillon During the Occupation.

Jean_Gremillon_set_DVDREMORQUES (1941) concerns the day-to-day dangers and realities of a hard-bitten tugboat crew and the patient women—their wives and lovers—who wait at home and take care of them. The film stars Gabin and Renaud, as husband and wife André and Yvonne, he the captain of the crew, and the stunning Michèle Morgan (THE FALLEN IDOL, PORT OF SHADOWS) as a mysterious woman named Catherine whom André rescues, initiating a desperate affair which seriously threatens the stability of home life.

LUMIÈRE D’ÉTÉ (1943) is a moody masterpiece set in the mountains in Provençal. Michèle (Madeleine Robinson) is a beautiful young woman whose future is ahead of her yet she is desperately attached to the fatalistic, dipsomaniac artist Roland (Pierre Brasseur); Patrice (Paul Bernard) is a decadent aristocrat living on a palatial-but-lonely estate who falls for Michèle, which causes jealousy from his long-time lover, Christine or “Cri-Cri” (Renaud), owner of the glass-enclosed mountain-top hotel The Guardian Angel. Into this already tightly-knit web is injected hunky and sincere, young worker Julien (Georges Marchal), who similarly falls in love with Michèle and who works at the massive construction site nearby—a Mephistophelean nightmare of nocturnal activity—where a dam is being constructed and the dynamite blasting seems to go on ominously and continuously.

LE CIEL EST À VOUS (translatable as the “The Sky is Yours,” 1944) is a nostalgic and warm-hearted drama about family life in a small town and a mother whose love of flying puts her at odds with her expected role in the home. Charles Vanel and Renaud star as Pierre and Thérèse Gauthier, a loving couple and parents of two children whose love is put to the test when Thérèse, jealous of her mechanic husband’s—a former WWI airman—intense interest in aviation spurs her to take up the sport for herself, eventually aiming to break a risky distance flying record. The tension in Le Ciel comes not from unrequited or doomed love (interestingly, all of the flying action is either observed from the ground or takes place off-screen) but from the everyday problems of hard-working people trying to free themselves through pursuit of their dreams, even when those passions threaten to become obsessions and bring everything crashing back down to earth. Renaud is commanding: both her brave performance and the portrayal of a family trying to pull together in hard times make it easy to see how this film would have appealed highly to wartime audiences living under the boot of Nazi control.

In all three films Grémillon’s controlled, often studio-shot virtuoso camerawork is on display: intricate special-effects and tracking shots used during the daring tugboat rescue in Remorques, as well as an extended wedding sequence; a concluding masked ball in Lumière which is a marvel for the eyes to behold; and a sensationally long and idyllic take at the outset of Le Ciel—the camera pans right from a flock of bleating sheep moving across a field to a group of schoolchildren singing and playing, as they eventually are reassembled and begin walking back into town.

If poetic realism is your thing—fatalistic love affairs; settings both picturesque and squalid; buffoonish and hilarious performances by great French character actors such as Léonce Corne; high and low classes intermingling in the ebb and flow of destiny; world-weary protagonists who pontificate and sigh piquant observations on the injustices of life; and plots by turns quotidian or shot through with broad symbolism—then Jean Grémillon’s world is for you.

In the meantime, stay tuned: we will continue to dig around here at Best Video and let you know what other buried treasure we find.

Rob Harmon’s recommendations 09/10/13

Rob_Harmon_image_for_picksLIFE IS SWEET (dir. Mike Leigh, 1990)

About mid-way through Mike Leigh’s 1990 breakthrough feature Life is Sweet (recently re-released on DVD by the Criterion Collection) the viewer may stop and wonder what kind of movie they are watching: a bittersweet comedy of life, with elements of the burlesque, or a drab slice of kitchen sink realism, in the vein of John Cassavetes? This sense of confusion, caused by Leigh’s rare ability to balance between extremes, is usually an indicator that he is in top form.

Mike Leigh is something of a wonder. Viewed from this side of the pond his body of filmmaking is remarkably consistent, vibrating with vitality, with breathing, lived-in characters whose penchant for train-wreck existences are only matched by their Teflon-like determination to survive in the modern-day urban environment. Though this venerable veteran of the stage, BBC teleplays, and feature film-making has achieved knighthood in his native land his contributions to British film would be better approximated—if it existed—by a distinction similar to Japan’s “living treasure” (Ken Loach is right there with him in this regard).

As its title suggests Life Is Sweet belies the austerity typical to socially conscious-filmmaking, its storyline—about a working-class family living on the outskirts of London and their orbit of friends and acquaintances—at times as light as it can be dense, often meandering like a gently-bubbling stream.

Andy (Leigh regular Jim Broadbent) is a chef whose position in a large and anonymous industrial-sized kitchen causes him to dream of the freedom he would be afforded by purchasing a snack cart that he could run on the weekends. His wife Wendy (Leigh’s then-wife Alison Steadman) helps make ends meet by working various jobs, such as a dance instructor and a sales associate in a children’s clothing store, her demeanor sociable and sprightly even in the face of adversity. Their twin daughters in their early-20s are as different from one another as they can possibly be. Natalie (Claire Skinner) is bookish and reserved, a conscientious worker, while Nicola (Ab Fab’s Jane Horrocks) carries a heavy chip on her shoulder, her seething anger at the world so complete that she seemingly wears a permanent scowl upon her face. Patsy (Stephen Rea) is a wheeler-dealer of sorts, an old chum of Andy’s; the two of them seem to melt over their beers at the local pub, giving themselves over to boozy and wistful reminiscences of the glory days of Tottenham Hotspur. Aubrey (another Leigh regular, Timothy Spall) is an overgrown man-child and aspiring restaurateur. The disastrous opening night of his The Regret Rien—a gaudy and grotesque evocation of the cuisine and culture of Paris and the music of Edith Piaf—provides the film with its most memorable and hilarious set-piece. His sous-chef Paula’s (Moya Brady) angular face is as doleful is it is doe-eyed, as she struggles to suppress wonderment and affection for her seemingly-acculturated new boss, while Nicola’s secret lover is played by a young David Thewlis, who would find his career-defining role just a few years later in Leigh’s NAKED.

Holding together this group of dreamers, losers, upstarts, and also-rans is Leigh’s compassionate sensibility: his humane, forgiving nature allows ample room for even the most hopeless of characters to work their way toward some form of resolution. Rachel Portman’s lively and unflagging chanson-influenced score, featuring oboe, accordion, and Theremin, steadily chugs throughout the movie, lightening the heavy emotional load just enough that it becomes bearable: it is the kind of airy tune that, once lodged in your head, hums along at an agreeable pace. Director of photography Dick Pope’s work is exceptional here, lensing the bleak working-class environs with a warm palette which permits traces of humanity to seep in at the edges. Singling out superior performances among this uniformly excellent cast is a difficult task but both Steadman and Horrocks are particularly deserving of praise for their strong portrayals.

This movie was an early indicator of Leigh’s mature sensibility, balancing unvarnished hardships with characters who learn to survive the slings and arrows of life, often with a giggle and a laugh. The complex and beautifully-composed opening shot of this film is perfectly indicative in this regard: Through a darkly lit foreground and a set of doors we glimpse a brightly-lit dance studio where Wendy leads a group of hesitant young girls to an upbeat bit of pop music cheerily thumping in the background. The sounds of vitality are distant, but unmistakable, as Wendy delivers sing-song encouragement and the group shyly begins to sway from side-to-side: life is (bitter) sweet, indeed!

Many of the other works by this distinguished filmmaker—Naked, the Gilbert and Sullivan biopic TOPSY-TURVY, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, CAREER GIRLS, ALL OR NOTHING, VERA DRAKE, ANOTHER YEAR and SECRETS & LIES—are available for rental in our Mike Leigh section.

Rob Harmon’s Recommendation 06/25/13


Rob Harmon

A fascinating trend in the history of American filmmaking is that many excellent filmmakers (and some not so much) have come here from other countries in order to make movies. While Hollywood exercises enormous influence on the world cinema scene just think of how much the outsider-perspectives of F.W. Murnau’s SUNRISE or Alex Cox’s REPO MAN or the bodies of works by Lubitsch and Wilder have affected our film culture.

STOKER should be regarded in this light: It is the first English-language film of South Korean director Park Chan-wook, who came into prominence in the early 2000’s with his gritty “Revenge” trilogy (SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, OLDBOY, LADY VENGEANCE), as well as the taut military thriller JSA: JOINT SECURITY AREA. Park developed a reputation for infusing lofty, almost Shakespearean themes with a violent genre sensibility. He was embraced by critics as well as by fans of “extreme” cinema for his bloody, baroque meditations on violence and revenge and their effects on the human psyche.

Like many of Park’s previous efforts Stoker is a thriller, and an effective, gruesome one at that. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) has just turned 18 and is a friendless outcast in high school. To make matters worse her father and best friend in the world (Dermot Mulroney) has just died in a mysterious car accident on her birthday, while her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode, the character’s name a clever nod to Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT), whom she never even knew existed, shows up at the palatial Stoker home announcing that he will stay, to the delight of India’s unstable, sexually-frustrated mother Evie (Nicole Kidman). India is more skeptical about Charlie, though, and his urbane, world-traveling exploits. When a number of people—the housekeeper, an aunt—begin to disappear, it may be that Charlie is behind it, as well as a number of other dark family secrets.  The Stokers are an unusual bunch, each of them more-than-capable of stoking this story along: India in her virginal white outfits but with an unusual taste for bird hunting; Evie with her pent-up sexuality and mid-life crisis; and Charlie, almost too-perfectly handsome, just couldn’t be a murderer… or could he?

During its 99 lean minutes, Stoker conjures up a kind of Grimm’s fairy tale-like atmosphere, one where blood-and-guts and hints of eroticism are the engines of grandiose storytelling. There is a great deal of psycho-sexual tension at work in this family and Park and his screenwriter (first-timer Wentworth Miller, better known as an actor until now) are wise enough to never reveal too much of their hand, subtle enough to leave a lot to the imagination. Stoker proves that—similarly to CARRIE—in a story about a young girl’s pubescent awakening to the cruel realities of the world, blood-letting can be a remarkably effective metaphor. Though highly stylized, this film never loses it grounding and its heart: the family unit, grotesque though it may be.

Many of Park Chan-wook’s films are available for rental in our Korean section, including Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, JSA: Joint Security Area and Thirst.