This, the first-ever English language film by South Koreaís Chanwook
Park (of SYMPATHY
FOR MR. VENGEANCE, OLDBOY and
THIRST fame), is an outrageously
stylish and fascinating work. Narrative deficiencies prevent STOKER from
reaching masterpiece status, but itís still far above average.
The script for STOKER was written by actor Wentworth
Miller (best known for his roles in PRISON BREAK and RESIDENT EVIL:
AFTERLIFE), and included in a 2010 listing of best unproduced
screenplays. The eventual Fox Searchlight film was produced by the Scott
Brothers (Ridley and the late Tony) and lensed on location in Tennessee.
Iím not expecting it to make much money during its Spring 2013
theatrical release, but I do believe STOKER will develop a devoted cult
following in years to come.
India is the sullen and withdrawn eighteen-year-old
daughter of Evelyn and Richard Stoker. The latter has just died
(allegedly) in a car accident, and his brother Charles comes to stay
with Evelyn and India. This has the effect of further inflaming a highly
unstable family dynamic, with Evelyn becoming attracted to Charles and
India rejecting him outright. Charles clearly has a thing for India, and
has had since she was a baby (precisely why heís so obsessed with
her is never explained)--and she, despite her attempts at denying it, is
definitely attracted to him.
With a family name like Stoker itís hardly a surprise
that a strain of latent psychosis is evident in both Charles and India.
Charles demonstrates his proclivities almost as soon as he moves into
the Stoker house by killing a servant and stashing her corpse in the
basement freezer. Charles also offs Indiaís aunt Gwendolyn when she
becomes a bit too inquisitive, and later ďsavesĒ India from a teenage
rapist by snapping the kidís neck.
The latter killing arouses India considerably, and
ignites her own psychotic nature. She nonetheless remains ambivalent
about Charles, especially when he reveals the nasty truth about his
brotherís ďaccidentalĒ death.
Chanwook Park fans worried that his unique
sensibilities might be watered down in this, his first film made outside
his native South Korea, can rest assured: STOKER is every inch a Park
film, with his penchants for perverse eroticism and unflinching
brutality very much in evidence, as well as the stylistic extravagance
that characterizes all his work.
Nearly every conceivable stylistic quirk is evident in
STOKER, which can be used as an educational primer in creative visual
storytelling. Not since the glory days of the 1960s New Wave movements
has a filmmaker played around with the mechanics of filmmaking with such
glee and conviction. Parkís brilliance as a filmmaker results in a film
that, once one adjusts to its loopy rhythms, is enormously fun to watch.
It also contains unusually strong performances by Mia Wasikowska and
Matthew Goode, proving that Parkís talents as a director of actors
arenít confined to Korean performers.
In the narrative arena, unfortunately, the film falls
short. Itís a mess, in fact, with a wealth of underexplained elements
and a lot of missing connective tissue.
What exactly is behind Charlesís obsession with India?
If a convincing explanation was offered I missed it. Is there a psychic
connection between them? For that matter, is there a supernatural
component (which the ominous atmosphere seems to portend) at all? And
how exactly does the Nicole Kidman played Evelyn Stoker fit into it all?
The character is incidental to the narrative, yet Kidman is granted many
lingering close-ups and a lengthy climactic speech that suggest
otherwise; might Kidman have some pivotal scenes that ended up on the
cutting room floor or was Park simply trying to justify her salary
(which, she being the biggest star, likely dwarfed those of Goode and
I donít know if Park is to blame for the narrative
puzzlement or the fault is with screenwriter Wentworth Miller, but it
keeps the film from reaching its full potential as a subversive classic.
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: Chanwook Park
Producers: Michael Costigan, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott
Screenplay: Wentworth Miller
Cinematography: Chung-hoon Chung
Editing: Nicholas De Toth
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney,
Jacki Weaver, Ralph Brown, Peg Allen, Lauren Roman, Harmony Korine,
Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich