By Emily Rome
Updated March 22, 2013 at 10:54 PM EDT


  • Movie

Image credit: Fox Searchlight[/caption]

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.

The Stokers’ house

Image credit: Macall Polay[/caption]

The Stokers are a wealthy family who live far outside of a town that’s never named. Though the film was shot in Nashville (where Kidman lives), the production designer was challenged to find the right type of house “in a sea of McMansions and old plantation homes.” After scouting about 60 other properties, DePrez finally found the house pictured above and knew it was right for the film.

The stairwell

Image credit: Macall Polay[/caption]

One requirement for the Stokers’ house was a stately staircase, which was the backdrop for some central scenes in the film. (Watch the clip below for an example.) Though the staircase in the location house “wasn’t as big as [the director] had imagined,” DePrez said. ” But what I loved about it was that it curved. It reiterated this [theme] of being trapped, being caged, and when you look up the stairs, you get all these great Caligari-esque angles.”

India’s funeral dress

Image credit: Macall Poley[/caption]

Chan-wook vision for Evie’s and India’s clothes was also very exact — all of India’s outfits are symmetrical, while Evie’s are asymmetrical. The dress India wears to her father’s funeral “was this Proenza Schouler dress that everybody loved, but [director] Park looked at it kind of oddly and was like, ‘Well, there’s only one pocket,’” Kurt remembered. It really mattered that [the outfit] was symmetrical, so we had to add a pocket to the other side.”

India’s room and her saddle shoes

Much like her clothes, India’s room is rather symmetrical, and the large headboard of her bed fits into DePrez’s plan to play with scale. “I noticed that in Park’s previous movies, his composition had such a sense of scale. Small people, big rooms, big objects, small people, and I really wanted to play with that,” DePrez said.

When she learns of her father’s death, India curls up with all the saddle shoes that he’s given her over the years. Kurt & Bart that the right saddle shoes was important, searching until they found the perfect pair, from an Orgeon company called Muffys Enterprises.

Evie’s room

In contrast to India’s room, Evie’s room features an asymmetrical layout and sultry details like deep red walls and dim, moody lighting. “Anything that exists in reality in terms of headboards just did not do the room justice,” said DePrez, who ended up using large stone pieces — originally part of a Louis Sullivan-designed building in Chicago — she found at Nashville antique store Preservation Station because they looked like tombstones.

Evie’s blue dress

Kurt & Bart worked with Lebanese designer Elie Saab to create the final dress Kidman’s character wears in the film. “We wanted it to have all these elements: super feminine, transparency, which was really important for her character, and the asymmetry, and also that peacock-blue color,” Bart said.

Green walls

A palette of reds, yellows and greens is used throughout the film. “Painting using a palette of only four greens, you felt like you were in a terrarium,” DePrez said of the colors used in the Stokers’ home. “Originally we were thinking of cooler colors and blue tones, and when I put them up on the wall it didn’t work, and we really began to go back and think about the idea of the hunter and the hunted. It was as if you were bringing the outdoors inside. And also to me, green is the color of envy, and there’s so much envy with these characters.”

India’s mourning dress

When it came time to design the grey dress India wears the day after her father’s funeral, Kurt & Bart created a frock inspired by a photograph by German photographer Loretta Lux, who was known for her surreal portraits of children.

Outdoor furniture

A hanging outdoor swing helped carry the bird symbolism from inside the Stoker house to the surrounding grounds. “I saw it in a magazine and thought it looked like a big nest,” DePrez said. “We were able to track down the company that makes it, and they loaned us that piece for the movie. And again there’s the idea of scale – how beautiful for India to be sitting in that in the backyard, this small person, that little baby chick inside of this big nest.”

Charlie’s sunglasses

Image credit: Macall Poley[/caption]

The sunglasses that Charlie wears are also worn by two other characters in the film — India and Charlie’s brother, Richard (Dermot Mulroney). Finding sunglasses that suited the faces of three different actors presented a challenge to Kurt and Bart, who did fittings with 60 different pairs of sunglasses before settling on a universally flattering pair of Paul Smith sunglasses.

Park Chan-wook’s Stoker, which started its limited release on March 1, expands to more theaters this weekend. A list of cities and theaters where the film is being shown is available on Fox Searchlight’s website.

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyNRome

Read more:

‘Stoker’ poster features Nicole Kidman, and Mia Wasikowska’s bloody hands — EXCLUSIVE

Nicole Kidman channels Grace Kelly’s regal style

‘Beautiful Creatures’ costume designer on dressing the characters in the supernatural flick

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