Directed by Park Chan-wook
Produced by Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Michael Costigan
Written by Wentworth Miller
Cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung
DVD – library (1:39)
Another recommendation from the guys at Pure Cinema Podcast, Stoker is the first English-language film from South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook, whose previous films include the Vengeance trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance) and who later made Snowpiercer (2013) and The Handmaiden (2016). If you know Chan-wook’s earlier work, Stoker will seem quite toned-down, but for this particular story, a quieter, more serene atmosphere serves to heighten the tension rather than reduce it.
After her father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) dies in a car accident on her 18th birthday, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska, above) is left alone in an immaculate sprawling house with her emotionally distant mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). After the funeral, Richard’s brother Charlie (Matthew Goode), a world-traveler, announces that he wishes to help support India and Evelyn, staying with them indefinitely.
Having never met Charlie before, the women react to him very differently: Evelyn is instantly smitten with Charlie’s charm and good looks, but India doesn’t trust him one bit. (Or perhaps she resents his presence, reminding her too much of her father?) As India begins to learn more about the mysterious Charlie, the dynamics of the film (especially the family dynamics) become more interesting and dangerous.
Stoker obviously owes a lot to Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), another story of an uncle (also named Charlie) with a secret who comes to visit. You could call Stoker a psychological horror movie, which would not be inaccurate, or even as some have labeled it, a vampire movie without vampires. Whatever labels you’d like to bestow on the film, Stoker is a gorgeous film to look at, creating an atmosphere of beauty that serves to enclose something dark and deadly. The payoff may not go quite where we think it will and may disappoint some, but you can’t argue with the visual qualities of the film or the acting, which is superb. Nicole Kidman haters may change their minds after this picture. There’s a good reason she gets paid millions for each film.
I suspect that Stoker is one of those films that has to grow on you. I certainly admire it for all the reasons mentioned above and am not quite sure (other than the payoff) what didn’t work for me. Without going into spoiler territory, I suspect it has something to do with the character of Charlie. Having seen it now, I’d like to revisit the film in six months or so and see if I feel differently. Let me know what you think.
Photos: DC Filmdom, The Film Stage, Lost in Reviews, Rebloggy
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