Director: Chan-wook Park
This review oringally appeared on Ramp.ie
Stoker is an proper little oddball of a film. It has to be; it deals with lurid events and disturbed characters, but we’ve seen these kinds of events and characters covered in a multitude of films before. Admittedly, none of those films looked as good as Stoker. In fact, very few of them sound or feel like Stoker either.
India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is in mourning. Her father (Dermot Mulroney) has just been killed in a car crash and her mother is a brittle cold fish (Why yes, she IS played by Nicole Kidman. How’d you guess?). To top it all, India’s father died on her 18th birthday. With all this horribleness around her, it’s understandable that India would take a keen interest in the sudden arrival of her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). He’s handsome, calm and smooth, but his focus on India is far more intense than anything she can imagine. Debut writer Wentworth Miller (yes, the guy from Prison Break wrote a movie) combines many an inspiration (Leon is a clear touchstone) into his screenplay. Brief though it may be, Miller squeezes enough sexual tension and violence into his sordid tale to overcome any familiar plot beats. When Charlie’s thoughts turn to murder, India’s fascination/attraction sees her getting in far too deep.
To bring this debauchery to the big screen required the hand of someone comfortable with this material; if it doesn’t blow away like so much pulp meta-fiction, the darkness of the piece will smother any goodwill towards it. With Oldboy, that disturbed and disturbing gem of noughties Korean cinema, Chan-Wook Park proved he can walk that fine line. As his English-language debut, Stoker has Park’s fingerprints all over it. The long shots and vivid colours are present and correct throughout his Vengeance trilogy, whilst India could easily be grow up to be an American version of Lee from Lady Vengeance. As India, Wasikowska combines a steely stare with her youthful looks, but this is no rigid Wednesday Adams rip-off. India could kill with looks alone, but she’s barely an adult, and her emotional fragility shines through every scene she’s in. An excellent supporting cast (including Jacki Weaver and Alden Ehrenreich) beef up some potentially one-dimensional roles, while Goode and Kidman up the creep factor. It may keep you at arms length emotionally, but then India doesn’t like to be touched. The inability to get close to the characters is a boon for once; it keeps us guessing right to the end and then on into the night afterwards. Besides, if you get too close to some of these people, you might draw back a stump.
Park paints Stoker as a fairy tale. The Stoker home has a feel of a Sleeping Beauty castle, with spiral staircases and walls painted in muted greens and blood red. Park’s regular DP Chung-hoon Chung makes the sunshine dazzle and the nightscapes none more black. Visually and thematically, there are references from Kubrick to the brothers Grimm, but with Park’s sensibilities married to this material, Stoker is beautifully singular. It may not inflict Oldboy’s final killer blow, but its stylish blend of menace and desire will not leave the memory easily.