Stoker Review

, Saturday, 09 March 2013 14:27 Written by 
Stoker Review
  • Director: Park Chan-wook
    Writer: Wentworth Miller, Erin Cressida Wilson
    Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney, Alden Ehrenreich
    Run time: 98 mins 
    2 stars 

Acclaimed South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook makes a distinctive Hollywood bow with Stoker, a dark thriller with a script by Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller. While the title pays homage to Dracula author Bram Stoker, the film's real inspiration is Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 thriller Shadow of a Doubt. It's an impressively dark and atmospheric film that's high on style but low on intrigue.

Mia Wasikowska stars as India Stoker, a morose teenage outcast whose father has just died. The film opens with his funeral and the arrival of Charlie (Matthew Goode), a mysterious uncle India never knew she had. Charlie moves in with India and her chilly mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) in their grand old house in the middle of the woods to fill in for the dearly departed man of the house.

India had a good relationship with her father - played by Dermot Mulroney in flashbacks – who took her on hunting trips to channel her morbid tendencies with the worrying philosophy of "Sometimes you have to do something bad to avoid doing something worse."

Charlie charms everyone right away with his impressive knowledge of fine wine and tales of his travels across the world. Goode is perfectly cast here, his boyish charm suggesting far more sinister depths and right from the off, Charlie has a creepy sexual tension with not only Evelyn but India too, leading to some awkward incestuous jealousy. As Evelyn and Charlie grow increasingly close, India begins to dig around for clues about Charlie and discovers some pretty shocking things.

Only they're not shocking, at least not to anyone who has seen the trailer or in fact, anyone who has seen a thriller before. It's evident as soon as Charlie arrives on the scene what is going on and the film's languid pacing often makes the slow reveals increasingly frustrating and tedious. By the time the 'big reveal' arrives, it's been so obvious for so long that it elicits sighs of boredom rather than surprise.

Stoker's saving grace is the heightened style and atmosphere that Park brings to the film, crafting some stunning scenes and memorable imagery from a dazzling piano sequence to the best pencil-sharpener scene you'll see all year. The visual style, as well as the remarkable sound design, makes portions of an otherwise pedestrian film almost mesmerising.

But ultimately, the film is a muddled and dull, a mishmash of goth-horror clichés that touches on a number of themes without ever delving into any of them enough. It's essentially a chamber drama but also a coming of age story, a revenge story, an erotic thriller and none of the elements merge together to form a plot with any real momentum. As a debut for Park and an exercise in technique and style, Stoker is an intriguing oddity but on a shear entertainment level, the deliberate pacing and blank characters makes for a shallow and uninvolving experience.

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