Stoker (Park Chan-wook, 2013)

Wholeheartedly employing a well-worn Hitchcockian trope, Park Chan-wook’s Stoker focuses on a previously, moreover mysteriously absent and disarmingly amiable uncle (Matthew Goode) as his involvement within the lives of his recently deceased brother’s wife (Nicole Kidman) and daughter (Mia Wasikowska) grows tenfold. Unsure and unsuspecting of his intentions, the Stoker girls – Evie and India – have differing opinions of Uncle Charlie, the latter remaining disapproving of him in her father’s now eternal absence. Over time, events unfold that unveil the truth behind his long-postponed reappearance – events that procure unspeakable turmoil within the Stoker clan.

At the near mention of Hitchcock, it’s almost too easy to pinpoint this script’s influences when it comes to the whole likeable sociopath thing, however as with films of its type, Stoker seemingly prides itself on an idea that the beauty is in the details. Unfortunately, narrative intricacies are inventive but not engaging, the film trying but mostly failing to be a character driven suspense story laden with looming, predictable twists that tend to pose more questions than it cares to answer. Even as Charlie’s erratic, murderous behavior triggers an alarming transformation within India, Stoker still feels aimless, going through the motions as offbeat familial melodrama segues into a slow-burning murder mystery procedural.

Aesthetically, Stoker is nearly flawless, sporting many an instance of dreamlike imagery and shots that could conceivably rival the likes of even Malick’s latest. Hyperbolic? Sure, yet it’s hard not to stand by such a statement as I vividly recall the film’s artistic integrity from start to finish. Violence, while sparse, is undeniably characteristic of director Park Chan-wook as his touch gives Stoker the visceral oomph it needs to keep its head above water during frequent inconsequential lulls, partially compensating for Miller’s script’s well-intentioned but unavoidable shortcomings.

It’s quite possible I’ve mentioned everything you haven’t already heard, but for what it’s worth, Park Chan-wook’s English language debut is a solid one, permeated by an arresting visual flair that far outweighs the weakness of its narrative. For as alternately character driven and Hitchock-level suspenseful as it tries to be, Stoker flounders throughout this balancing act as India’s latent sociopathic evolution pique but can’t hold our interests. All in all, you could do worse than this well-acted bit of admirable style that trounces what it provides as mildly serviceable substance, especially if you don’t mind your fair share of predictability.


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