Park Chan-wook’s Stoker is one of those films that’s heralded with uniform allure, its bevy of talent advertised in a tantalizing trailer, and now, one artful, remarkable one-sheet. Joining the all-too-slim club of illustrated ads, this black-and-white, apparently pencil-drawn beauty thrives on minute detail, taking the risk of drawing in the eye rather than brashly broadcasting its goods. Sure, there’s bound to be a more marketing-friendly version, with Nicole Kidman’s wrathful face blown up for all to see, but, for now, Chan-wook’s fans can savor Version 1, which, ironically, bears the lines and hues of currency.
Stoker, of course, marks Chan-wook’s English-language debut, and his most buzzed-about work since Oldboy. Co-penned by Prison Break heartthrob Wentworth Miller, it explores the sordid secrets of one very dysfunctional family, whose fan-the-flames surname gives the film its title. The poster, it would seem, depicts a gnarled family tree, dressed with brooding glances, angry birds, and skeletons from closets.
If the film’s synopsis is any indication, the coffin at the image’s base holds the body of Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney), father to India (Mia Wasikowska) and husband to Evelyn (Kidman). The film’s events surround what happens after Richard’s death, and thus this tree’s branches sprout outward from his corpse, tangling themselves in what one can only surmise are details of the plot. Naturally, the shovel points to foul play, which seems to follow India’s visiting uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode), who’s enigmatically relegated to a blink-and-miss limb at top left. Did Charlie kill Richard? Does his lack of prominence suggest he’s not really a member of this family? His sunglass-covered gaze is nearly as menacing as that spider, which dangles just beside the shovel, and seems to be this movie’s creeping motif of dread (the trailer sees it crawl within the frame repeatedly). The implications of the shoes, piano, gift, and cake are anyone’s guess, but odds are there’s much familial innocence and artifice being shattered, be it due to Charlie’s danger, India’s grief, or Evelyn’s cruelty (“I can’t wait to watch life tear you apart,” Kidman memorably growls to Wasikowska in the trailer).
Was this always such a loveless family? The poster surely paints it as one devoid of color, despite that subtle green that bleeds its way through the vines. Stark and ominous, this is a gloomy portrait of consummate unhappiness, and yet, its beauty is abundant. All but swallowed by the organic mass that holds them, the parade of fetching curiosities literally wreath the title, the only other element that doesn’t appear in black and white. Its green may just suggest some fertile birth, of sorts, which, again, crops up in the wake of Richard’s death. One needn’t stretch to assume that what’s birthed is something evil, presumably corrupting the ill-fated and unloved India. Perhaps the notions of birth and development can best explain the use of lines and grayscale: Like a page torn out of some unholy coloring book, this image ultimately reads as a devilish work in progress.