You might think the whole thing is a little off, from the beginning. The young girl is a cliche, the new uncle is not quite there, only Nicole Kidman seems to be well placed. But just wait, it’s all setup so that afterwards you can have a flurry of intense emotions hurling against you like an avalanche.
This director’s style is to anchor things visually with details. A pair of shoes, a garden, a spider. These things might be meaningful, we register a personality, maybe a backstory. They work as nodes connecting to any other thread it may appeal to.
To brief you quickly, without spoilers, this is the story of a young girl (Mia Wasikowska) whose father died suddenly under mysterious circumstances. Her uncle (Matthew Goode) whom she didn’t know previously comes to stay with her and her mom (Nicole Kidman) to keep them company in this time of mourning. Why would they let someone who is a complete stranger be close to them during this difficult time? That’s the story, and part of the mystery the two women try to unlock. The uncle’s backstory is constantly being probed. The truth shall be revealed, and it is bloody.
The almost boring and cliche way that the story is setup works towards the impending sense of menace and danger that suddenly surges to mix with sex and violence. There are a lot of visual sight gags that connect scenes and gestures and details that overlap. It’s like the shorthands of advertising, but plugged into a story with character-motivated implications. It is not cheap, and it is not quite masterful. But it’s clever, and it sticks and pays off.
You can read into the story references to themes of past lives, cosmic determinism, and schizophrenia. I wouldn’t expect anything less from the director of Oldboy whose “Vengeance” trilogy dealt with some spiritual themes such as the essence of remembering, and the trauma of violence. I’m thoroughly impressed at how he can craft stories that work as genre pieces but also touch such serious cornerstones of the mind. It’s not educational, but it’s not only entertainment. It connects because it’s also about cinema in a way. Looking for meaning, encountering danger, being seduced, and seducing.
See the way he moves his camera around…it’s fluid.