While the style does outweigh the story, Stoker is a welcoming first English-language film from Park that I hope is not his last.
Since Chan-wook Park emerged into the cinema scene with his critically acclaimed Vengeance Trilogy, he has been a director to pay close attention to. When it was announced that Stoker would be his first English-language film, naturally everyone’s ears perked. But going into Stoker with the exact same expectations based on his previous work would be ill-advised. The story here is more subdued and is slower paced than his previous work. In the film there is some violence (though much less is actually shown), incestuous suggestions, and good ol’ fashion that is often found in his work, everything is just more submissive here.
India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is a peculiar girl who just lost her father on the arrival of her eighteenth birthday. This event makes the already bizarre and reserved teenager even more withdrawn as India was always very close to her father. Not making the matters any better is the fact that India has always been distance with her mother Evelyn Stoker (Nicole Kidman). What makes the story unsettling is the arrival of Uncle Charles (Matthew Goode), an odd mannered character himself, who India never even knew existed before the funeral.
For no real apparent reason it is suddenly decided that Charles will be staying at the mansion with family for an undetermined amount of time. From the very beginning India had an uneasy feeling toward her father’s brother, but her mother’s eerily attraction towards him only added fuel to the fire. Her suspicions about him keep adding up the longer he is around and the film does a great job of filling the viewer with those same uncertainties.
The story is not entirely cohesive as it starts down several paths but does not quite finish on any of them. This can be off-putting to some people as the film seemingly cannot make up its mind on where to go, but the intention is to keep everyone involved guessing. The frustrating part is the end result is not as interesting as some of the other possibilities that it explored. That, and it builds itself up to be a mystery, but it is solved well before the conclusion.
All three leads do a great job with what their role demanded. The weakest of the bunch would probably have to go to Nicole Kidman, but only because her character is the least interesting. Mia Wasikowska is simply outstanding as the dark introvert who discovers some sinister secrets about her family. Then there is Matthew Goode, who at first seems awkwardly out of place, but then ends up nailing the role brilliantly as his character develops.
The camera techniques in Stoker are incredibly well-crafted and original, just what you would come to expect from the acclaimed filmmaker. Most of the shots had to be meticulously planned out and synced together. A great example of this is when the film cuts back and forth between two different characters in different locations walking out of doors and opening others in perfect rhythm. All of that happens while the same nature documentary on the television, which talks about sibling rivalry and is therefore relevant to the story, plays in the background in each of their locations.
Considering Park’s previous work, some might be a little disappointed that Stoker tells a much more conventional story with a final payoff is not as grand as Oldboy’s was. But the way the story is displayed is certainly as artful and poetic as anything Park has done to date. His sense of style is evident in the very beginning when the opening credits playfully interact with what is happening on the screen. For example, the text of the credits may be placed beside a rock on screen and when the character moves the rock, the text moves along with it. While the style does outweigh the story, Stoker is a welcoming first English-language film from Park that I hope is not his last.
Stoker is Available on Blu-ray and DVD on June 18th