OK – so if you like your movies dark, then this one is definitely for you.  I went into this in the blissful position of not knowing a thing about it…. given the title I had assumed somehow that it might have some loose connotations to the Dracula author or something.  But no (the title, based on the character’s surname) is pretty much irrelevant.   And I have to say, I was thoroughly gripped by it.

The story is of a clearly dysfunctional family who’s father has just died leaving behind a spoiled wastrel mother (excellently played by Nicole Kidman) and the strange, clearly autistic, daughter India (played by Mia Wasikowska).  At his funeral appears a long lost and intense brother to the deceased, played with Norman Bates zeal by Matthew Goode.  What follows is a disturbing tale of murder and sexual tension, earning it its 18 certificate.

Of all the performances it is Mia Wasikowska that shines as the 18 year old India.  She was great in the 2011 version of Jane Eyre, but here she really earns her acting chops with a complex and multi-layered performance.  She must surely be an Oscar candidate in years to come.

The director is Chan-wook Park, a South Korean director, and this is his first Western film.  The film jumps backwards and forwards with brief flashbacks and images at the start of the film that only make sense later:  “Just as a flower doesn’t choose its color, we don’t choose what we are going to be”.  This keeps you on your toes as a viewer.  And watch out for a truly brilliant fade from Nicole Kidman’s hair to a field of pampas grass – – equalled only by a similar fade in Spielberg’s War Horse. 

I referenced Norman Bates earlier, and there is a certain Hitchcockian tension that builds throughout to moments of sickening violence.  Very little of the violence is particularly graphic:  the director often cuts away to leave more to the imagination than your typical ‘Final Destination’ gore-fest.  This makes it all the more effective.  And there hasn’t been as graphic a linkage made between extreme violence and sexual gratification since Xenia Onatopp machine gunned the assembled Russian base personnel in Goldeneye!

Where I would be critical is that the motivation of the characters is never made clear, particularly regarding some of the actions at the end of the film which defy reason.  But perhaps in the wake of all of the US school shootings, that’s the point.

Disturbing but memorable. 

Fad Rating:  FFFf.