By Will Ashton | firstname.lastname@example.org
Stoker | Directed by Park Chan-wook | Rated R
But, to be fair, it was likely never going to be. Chan-wook made a modern masterpiece with Oldboy; a film so twisted, layered, and dark that it remains one of the most original, engrossing, and haunting films of the last decade.
In his English-language debut, it’s understandable that Chan-wook would stick in the realm of demented family drama/thrillers. Yet, even though it is very evident that Chan-wook has not left his enjoyment for pushing boundaries overseas, Stoker only remains part of what a great film it could have been.
Stoker follows the story of India (Mia Wasikowska), a young teenage girl who, after her father dies, finally meets her estranged uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode). Betaken by him, India’s mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), allows Charlie to stay with them in their house. But given his unexpected appearance, India remains extremely suspicious of him. But as he continues to live in the house, India begins to grow entangled by his presence, which sets off a series of morally dangerous circumstances.
Given his resume, it was safe to say that I was very much looking forward to this film. In fact, you could even say that I was stoked to see it. But, bad jokes aside, given the talent involved with this project, I was very much excited to see what was to become of the final product.
While I do ultimately like the film, there is always an underlying sense that this film deserves to be better than it actually is. After evaluating a number of different aspects of the film, I have come to suspect that the reasons are both Chan-wook’s unfamiliarity with the language and the script, penned by actor Wentworth Miller.
Stoker is a film of varying qualities. Each scene cares a different level of success, if successful at all. Some scenes are really good, others not so much. While the film never reaches the level of being terrible, it never truly hits greatness either. Often, characters say lines or react in ways that seem unlike how they should be acting. One could argue that this is due to the unusual people we are focused on here, but given how he has handled actors in his native language, I’m inclined to believe that he can handle strange people better.
It would seem, then, that Chan-wook unfamiliarity leads to some questionable direction of his actors, resulting in quite a few scenes that come across as confused and uncertain of itself. While we are only talking about a couple scenes in the movie, particularly the dinner ones, they are still here and, therefore, drag the film down. But when the film is good, it’s good. Chan-wook’s attention to detail always remains impeccable, and results in some truly haunting and memorable sequences.
With this said, the acting in the film is still pretty good. Despite her lukewarm performance in Alice in Wonderland, Wasikowska has proven herself to be a competent young actress in films such as The Kids are All Right and Jane Eyre. Here, she, once again, gives another strong lead performance. Additionally, Kidman also gives a strong supporting performance- with one monologue in particular that steals the show, if only for a moment. Goode gives a supporting role that is a little darker than we’re use to from him, and I mean that in a good way.
In his screenwriting debut, Miller provides a well-written script that proves that he might actually be better on the page than in front of the screen. Yet, there are scenes of dialogue here that just seem, well, hollow. I’m not sure if this is more from Chan-wook’s confused direction or his writing, but based on what’s being said, I have come to suspect that he is not entirely free of blame.
There are quite a few twists and turns in this film, but there is a lingering feeling that the film tries too hard to capture the same momentous tension found in Oldboy and his other films. Some of these twists come across as silly rather than shocking, and nothing in this film is ever as surprising as it thinks it is. Yet, its twisted nature still remains captivating, and as a result, the second half of this film is better than its first.
Stoker is a gorgeous film. Chung Chung-hoon’s cinematography is easily the film’s best feature. It’s a very beautiful film to look at, and images and visual symbolism shown throughout the film are sometimes quite breathtaking. Additionally, Clint Mansell’s eerie score adds a great deal of tension, and, while at times it can be a little rough, the editing in this film, at its best, is great. When these three elements are at play together is easily when the movie is at its best.
Ultimately, Stoker is an underwhelming, but still engaging film. Despite its flaws, when it grabs you, it grabs you. It’s an odd movie, but Chan-wook knows how to engage audiences enough to keep them going, even if it’s not in his native tongue.