Genre(s): Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Director(s): Park Chan-wook
Release Year: 2013
To look at one’s family and decide where you come from and who you are most like is probably one of the more difficult things in life; especially when you’re a Stoker. Park Chan-Wook’s English language debut, Stoker, is what anyone would expect a Park Chan-Wook film to be; disturbed, moody, beautifully shot, yet right when the movie starts, it feels restrained. Now as any Park fan would know, this isn’t something he is particularly known for. Park, the director of The Vengeance Trilogy and Thirst, gives us his version of the coming-of-age film…if you were surrounded by this family.
Stoker begins with our narrator, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), as she mourns the death of her father (Dermot Mulroney). Living with her estranged mother (Nicole Kidman), India feels alone and isolated by her classmates and residence. That is, until Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) arrives. It is from here that the discovering nature of the film plays out, as we delve deeper into the reasons for Charlie’s arrival and explore the aftermath of India’s father’s death.
Written by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller (yes, I’m surprised too), we’re given a tight and incredibly well-toned piece that comes together at a slow and methodical pace but with every plot point thought out thoroughly, and executed even better by veteran director, Park. Dialogue can occasionally get on the dry side but this only adds to the detached manner which feels needed to completely get a closer look at the true family dichotomy behind the façade of mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters, and so on. If there is a problem with the script, it’s that it occasionally feels overly workshopped by a bunch of screenwriters sitting in a room taking out every little bit of excess from the screen and giving us little room to breathe or escape from this world.
Another positive from the film is the gorgeous cinematography from Park Chan-Wook regular, Chung Hoon Chung, we are able to feast on a beautifully framed film within its dark castle otherwise known as the Stoker residence. Hues of blue and black linger all over the film and with the gothic tone being nailed down by not only the DP but legendary composer, Clint Mansell, in another purchase worthy soundtrack, this film couldn’t look or sound anymore beautiful.
But if there’s anything more important than the excellent technical aspects of the film, it’s the mood. Violent and, at first, narcissistic, we are given a view of the general teenager and how our views of the world and connections to the people around us make us into who we are. Wasikowska’s performance is a testament to this as she feels essential to the role and I honestly couldn’t see the character without her; dark and cold, we feel the judgment ooze off of her eyes. To call the film cold though is a misunderstanding. We are presented a calculated and moody film, not to necessarily put ourselves into these characters but to witness the lives in front of us without the same prejudice these characters have to one another. Definitely not for the “Popcorn and Large Soda” crowd, but if you can appreciate the breakdown of the family tree, you’ll definitely want to consider checking it out.