Stoker

2 Mar

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There are some people (myself included) to whom the name Park Chan-Wook means ‘Oldboy’. Having only seen Oldboy a month or so ago, I was blown away by it, and so my interest was piqued when I saw the director had a new film out. That film is Stoker, and it is Chan-Wook’s first English language film.

The story is established very early on. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), who we know within minutes isn’t quite your average teenager, is turning 18. Young India won’t be spending too much time eating cake and playing with new toys on this birthday though. Sadly for her, she’s about to receive the news that her father, Richard Stoker, has died.

In the days following the untimely death of Mr Stoker, India and her mother, Evelyn Stoker (Nicole Kidman) are paid a visit by a relative that India didn’t know existed. That relative is Charlie Stoker (Matthew Goode); He’s the brother of India’s now deceased father, thus making him India’s uncle. This is where the story begins, and where I stop detailing the plot.

The place to start with Stoker has to be the visuals. The movie clocks in at just over an hour and a half. For almost all of that running time, the images on the screen are striking. They’re dark, eerie and beautiful. Whether it be a close up on a pair of shoes, the sharpening of a pencil or young India nipping to the basement to get some ice-cream, it’s never dull and always dramatic. I found it to be an ultra-stylish film that had me fixated on the screen throughout.

There is a shot not too far from the end of the film in which, looking down a hallway, we see two characters sharing a room, stood by two different entrances to that room. Suddenly, one of the doors closes and you can only see one character as the back-and-forth dialogue continues. It’s a clever move. Your attention is on the visuals, yet the dialogue has just become more important because you can only see one character. It’s a fantastically framed shot, keeping your eyes well and truly on the screen.

If you’ve got your audience fixated on your movie, then you’ve got something right. So next up the story needs to deliver, and that’s where we begin to have a little bit of a problem. Stoker doesn’t have a bad story, far from it. It’s just that it’s not great either. Early on it feels like we’re been drawn into a potential ‘whodunnit’ plot, but we soon find out we’re not. There are elements of a strange love story here too, but it’s not really one of those either.

What we have is a passable tale of a quite frankly creepy, odd family. Chan-Wook skilfully drip-feeds us chunks of information that move the story along nicely, including a couple of big ‘reveals’ that force some interesting character development. Sadly though, that’s about it. For as much as I felt I enjoyed the film at the time, when I think back the story is, in truth, a little flat.

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All we’re left with now is the acting. This is an area where the film certainly delivers again, aided by the visuals and masterful framing discussed earlier. Wasikowska is believable as an odd, young misfit. India does have a fairly interesting story arc and Wasikowska plays her pretty much to perfection. She generates an uncomfortable screen presence, which is exactly what is called for here.

Matthew Goode, too, will give you the creeps. Chan-Wook is excellent here. A few well timed close-ups on Goode’s face over the dinner table allow his eyes to pierce the screen, and mean there is little requirement for dialogue to tell you we’re not dealing with a normal man here. Like the characters surrounding him, you won’t sit too comfortably in your seat when he’s around.

Finally, we have Nicole Kidman. Her performance is good and she plays a key role in helping develop the characters around her. For as competent as she is on screen though, she takes a backseat to Wasikowska and Goode. That’s through no fault of her own. She delivers everything the part demands and it’s a good supporting performance, if not especially memorable.

Overall, you’d be hard pushed not to enjoy Stoker. It’s a good film and has a short enough running time to ensure you’ll not be bored at any point. What will stick with me here though is the look of the film. It’s dark and it’s eerie, presented perfectly in this regard by a skilled director. The story won’t bore you either, but if you’re expecting anything as well crafted as Oldboy, you might find yourself a little disappointed.

7/10

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4 Responses to “Stoker”

  1. biggreenjelly March 3, 2013 at 18:29 #

    Annoying good first review Richard. I think we picked up on many of the same things but I loved the film. Very well written though. Just don’t get too popular now.

    • biggreenjelly March 3, 2013 at 18:29 #

      That should be ‘annoyingly’ good. See, you’ve got me worried already.

    • Richard Burns March 3, 2013 at 19:48 #

      Very kind of you to say Tom, thanks.
      I did enjoy it. I just didn’t love it. It’s spectacular to look at

  2. Sarah Doyle March 4, 2013 at 09:10 #

    Good review 🙂

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