Running Time: 98 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – Official HCF Artist
With genre classics such as Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance already on his CV, it goes without saying that South Korean director Chan-wook Park’s first stateside production arrives with more than a little anticipation. Stoker is an old fashioned, mystery thriller with Park’s recognisable visual style and characteristics thrown into the mix. The big question is whether this translates successfully across the pond?
The movie opens with grieving widow, Evie (Nicole Kidman) attending the funeral of her husband (Dermot Mulroney). Her sullen and eccentric 18 year old daughter, India (Mia Wasilowska) does not seem to want anything to do with her and objects to any comfort that her mother offers her. Matters become complicated when her father’s younger brother, Charles (Matthew Goode) turns up on their doorstep with plans to help the family through this difficult period. He is handsome, charming and also completely sinister. Much of the first third of the film establishes the awkward relationship and interactions between these three characters. Although India has never met Charles before, her mother is just as much a stranger to her. Flashback scenes reveal that much of the young woman’s time is spent hunting with her father rather than bonding with Evie.
Things start to get interesting when family housekeepers and meddling aunts start to disappear mysteriously. It does not take a genius to work out where the story is heading but Park keeps his cards firmly to his chest. There is also the unsavoury relationship that is building between uncle and niece. From an initial resentment regards his unannounced arrival, India starts to harbour passionate feelings about Charles. Unfortunately for the school bullies, these feelings are about to be released in a destructive rather than sexual force.
Stoker has all the makings of a cult classic but with one vital ingredient missing; a decent script. Wentworth Miller (Resident Evil: Afterlife) was entrusted with the task of scripting the movie and the end results are like a cold Big Mac on a china plate. With shades of Alfred Hitchcock’s, ‘ Shadow of a Doubt’, it is a travesty that Park, his crew and a talented list of actors were landed with this to work with. The story feels unfinished and the characters undeveloped.
On a positive note, the film looks and sounds incredible. Every scene is carefully planned and constructed for maximum effect. My personal favourite sequences were an image of Asia sprawled on her bed with a circle of shoeboxes (one pair of shoes for each birthday) surrounding her, a ingenious use of a swinging light in an eerie basement scene and a stunning close up of Kidman’s red hair transforming into a forest setting.
The cast members are all solid but unexceptional in their roles. Wasikowska is engaging and unconventionally beautiful as the troubled teenager, Goode is suitably creepy with his smooth delivery and wide blue eyes and Kidman fairs well even though she disappears for large chunks of the film. It is also hard to empathize with the three leads as they are so cold with only a brief appearance by Jacki Weaver, playing as a concerned aunt, showing any signs of love.
Compared to his previous movies, Park is extremely restrained with his use of violence in this project. Most of the killings occur off screen with all of the red stuff saved for the final quarter. When this does arrive it cheapens the movie somewhat. I was quite surprised that Stoker was granted an 18 certificate when there was very little on show that warranted it?
Stoker is a classic example of style over substance. There will be many a critic that will praise this film to the high heavens but when the credits started to role I had already put my coat, scarf and gloves on ready to face the cold winter air of Glasgow city centre. This is the first big disappointment of 2013.