I love genre films: horror, science fiction, heist films, con games, crime thrillers, all those modes that entice audiences with a promise of familiar tropes and unexpected twists. Back in my high school days it was pure fan adoration and during my college evolution I embraced the subversive subtexts and mythic explorations. Today I’m a bit more discerning but no less charmed by a fresh take on or a spirited revival of a familiar genre. Those first loves never leave you completely.
Ironically, as the entertainment industry has promoted once unrespectable genres into blockbuster events, I find myself less satisfied than when they existed largely as filler to studio schedules or the domain of upstarts and exploitation producers. They weren’t always good, let alone great, but the possibility of being surprised always brought me back to find the next Terminator or Near Dark or Cronos. The budgets are bigger and the spectacle more lavish in the Star Wars and Harry Potter and Twilight and Hobbit franchises, but we’ve lost the quirks and creativity in the homogenization and gentrification of what were once outliers.
But the outliers are still there. They’re just harder to find amidst the smothering promotional campaigns of the franchises that devoured Hollywood. Here are some of the pleasures I found between the tentpoles.
With vampires becoming so fashionable it’s refreshing to find something as unsettling as Stoker, the American feature debut of Park Chan-wook. It plays like a vampire movie without a vampire. At least not in the mythic sense of the term. Mia Wasikowska is dreamy and uneasy as a teenage girl preternaturally attuned to the world and Matthew Goode is creepily calm and seductive as her Uncle Charlie. Yes, it’s an offhanded reference to Hitchcock’s take on another dark uncle-niece relationship but she’s no small town innocent. Park sculpts the film beautifully, throwing the literalness of Wentworth Miller’s original screenplay off balance with every shot. There is blood and brutality and the icy threats under silent intimidation, but done with such elegance and eerie suggestion that it feels like a dream. Or an awakening.