Stoker, the first English-language film of South Korean director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy), is creepy, twisted and just…off, and much of that tone — which Chan-wook calls a “gothic fairy tale” — was achieved through unusual costuming and production design choices.
The film reunited production designer Thérèse DePrez with costuming duo Kurt & Bart (who prefer to not use their last names in their work) who previously collaborated on the Allen Ginsberg biopic Howl. While Howl was grounded in the reality of a specific time period, the three designers were challenged by Chan-wook to create an “out of time” feel for Stoker.
“[The] timeless quality is something [director] Park and I talked about at length,” DePrez said. “You don’t really have a sense of where you are, what year it is…I always felt like that [watching] his other films. His films to me are these packages of other universes.”
Stoker introduces quiet, distant India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) on her 18th birthday, the same day her father dies. India is left to live with Evie, a mother (Nicole Kidman) who never quite cared for her, and her mysterious uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). In the film’s early scenes, as India searches for the birthday gift her father hides every year (always a new pair of saddle shoes) and attends her father’s funeral, few clues about the time period are offered. The Stokers’ perfectly pressed, demure clothing feels out of the early 1960s, their home is devoid of recognizable brand labels, and no modern technology can be spotted until the characters start using cell phones. It’s only when India goes to school, where she looks starkly out-of-place among classmates clad in jeans and T-shirts, and Uncle Charlie refers to the vintage of a bottle of 1994 wine as the same year India was born, that the audience begins to realize the film is set in the present day.
DePrez was determined to make sure Chan-wook’s filmmaking style wasn’t lost in translation. “His movies have such an amazing intriguing original style, and I wanted to protect that,” said the production designer, who also vowed to uphold the director’s use of symbolism. In Stoker, images associated with birds and cages are a prominent symbol, especially as the lives of the Stokers begin to spiral out of control.
Read on to learn how DePrez and Kurt & Bart created a “timeless, claustrophobic story,” as Kurt described it, and check out exclusive photos from the film.