Director Park Chan-wook enters new territory in his first English language film, “Stoker.” The concept behind “Stoker” (charming, elusive relative + deadly family secrets = mystery & intrigue) draws audience attention, and with the previous festival success of Chan-wook’s “Old Boy” (2003), we had high expectations. Unfortunately, the overall predictability and shoddy execution of the film ruins any effort to achieve a gold medal standing.
After the sudden death of her father, sullen and withdrawn teenager, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), is left with an unstable mother (Nicole Kidman) whom she feels little affection toward and memories of hunting with her father. The unexpected arrival of her mysterious uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode), a man India never knew existed, creates new tension in the household and leads to a blossoming infatuation, a loss of innocence and the revelation of disturbing family secrets.
Chan-wook’s “Stoker” is an awkward swan of a film – beautiful in style, yet clumsy in composition. The cinematography is sporadically glorious (the opening sequence, some fluid, motivated camera movement, and a solitary transition from present reality to memory come to mind), but averages a steady mediocrity. Clint Mansell’s score is beautiful, but overly present and just loud enough to take away from the quality of certain scenes. The characters are intriguing, but predictable and shallow, and do little justice in showing off the actors’ true talents.
That said, the most of the actors’ performances were simply adequate. Mia Wasikowska plays sullen, isolated and cold India well, delving awkwardly into the prepubescent stage of coming into one’s own sexuality and skewed, apathetic psyche. Nicole Kidman is soft-spoken and unsettlinh as Evelyn Stoker, the wife who feels unloved by both her late father and her young daughter. Stealing the spotlight is Matthew Goode, whose evocation of eeriness and stoicism is chilling throughout his portrayal of Charlie Stoker. The combination of Charlie’s dashing looks, easy smile and steady, penetrating stare are unnerving; Goode’s performance is clearly one of the better aspects of the film.
The ending was lackluster, leaving no true resolution, no moment of redemption, no surprise. The hunting motif and India’s memories are not consistent enough to give the audience a deeper understanding of who India’s character is. In fact, many of the characters lack the depth necessary to feel invested, leaving the audience craving more.
One aspect the film does excel at is its unrelentingly creepy tone. Chan-wook’s direction, Wentworth Miller’s screenplay and the actors’ performances continually disturb and maintain the latent sinister tone the film needs.
Overall, “Stoker” is a good effort in creating a thriller, but slacks on originality and continuity.
Speakeasy Rating: B-
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman
Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content