Korean director Park Chan-wook has a lot of moviegoers waiting in anticipation for his first North American film, Stoker. He left audiences in awe after the shocking, yet incredibly popular motion picture, Oldboy. This Korean director has a dark and unsettling tone, which is a consistent style that he holds through all of his pictures. There have been numerous concerns regarding Park Chan-wook's visual signature, and what will become of it as he makes his transition to American cinema for the first time. While Stoker is his tamest film, it has his fingerprints all over it. Regardless of your opinions towards the filmmaker, it all comes down to your personal opinion towards this movie's artsy representation. This isn't your typical mystery/thriller, and is guaranteed to get in your head and mess with you. This is one motion picture that isn't easy to shake off.
India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) has just turned eighteen, when her father (Dermot Mulroney) dies tragically. Soon after, India's Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother, Evelyn Stoker (Nicole Kidman). India and her mother have always been distant, but Charlie tries to pull the family together. He wishes to make up for lost time, and while Evelyn finds his company comforting, India is suspicious of this mysterious man and his underlying motives. The longer he stays in the Stoker household, the more infatuated she becomes with the uncle she never heard about.
Wentworth Miller's screenplay has clearly been influenced by Hitchcock to Lynch and Cronenberg. There's a lot of material for the audience to sift through. The clues are all there, but leaves them for the viewers to put them together. Modern Hollywood and independent flicks are quick to explain every plot point and characterization, which is an absolute insult to our intelligence. However, Stoker wants to keep your brain running throughout, as you try to put this puzzle together. The twists themselves aren't very surprising, but we're constantly trying to understand these characters and understand their intentions and the countless metaphors heavily sprinkled throughout the running time. Miller takes the time to answer the basic questions one would have about these roles, but allows the dialogue and their actions to take it from there. The characters don't have defined roles, which leaves them open for interpretation. There's enough material here to dissect for hours after the credits are done rolling.
The majority of the plot plays out within the family's house, as a couple family members pass through after Richard Stoker's death to comfort Evelyn and India. There are only a few times when the film moves to other environments, such as India's art class. While these scenes ultimately progress the story forward, they feel somewhat out of place. The film shines much brighter through the depictions of this family's turmoil within the house. While Stoker is truly a dark thriller, small hints of humor can be found towards the end of the first act. Once Charlie has moved in, the tension begins to show itself through India's sarcasm towards her family. She's expected to be the "picture perfect" daughter towards a cold mother and an uncle she's never met. The only person she connected to was her father, but a lot of her sadness comes out in the dark humor found in the dialogue between her and her mother.
Once the third act comes along, the film shows its teeth. This is when the plot kicks itself into high gear until the credits begin rolling. There are numerous trends explored through this movie, which ultimately come together through the final act. These include family loyalty, responsibility, sexual repression, depression, and insanity. These are all expressed in unusually and unconventional ways, which might offset some audiences. Stoker is undeniably morbid and gloomy, but has a lot to offer moviegoers, if you're willing to hear it out. If you aren't prepared for this odd piece of filmmaking, you might react negatively. However, if you thrive off of this incredibly artistic atmosphere, then prepare for one hell of a ride. Director Park Chan-wook has done wonders with Wentworth Miller's intriguing screenplay.
Numerous actresses have been considered for the role of India Stoker. Even after reading through the list of actresses, Mia Wasikowska was the perfect person to fulfill this role. She does an excellent job with the material, as she's undeniably convincing with every word of dialogue she speaks. Nicole Kidman is outstanding as the unstable mother, Evelyn. She's absolutely fantastic on screen with Wasikowska, as they execute a distant "mother-daughter" relationship very well. Matthew Goode is better than one would expect him to be in the role of Charlie Stoker. He's incredibly charming, yet mysterious and creepy at the same time. When all three of these actors are on screen at the same time, it's quite hypnotizing. Wasikowska, Kidman, and Goode draw the audience in with enacting this incredibly disturbing family dynamic.
Since this is a Park Chan-wook film, expect to see his marvelous visuals. He matches Miller's words with numerous visual metaphors for the plot, as well as the characters. He draws the audience in fairly quickly, bites down, and doesn't let go. Chung-hoon Chung has worked on Park Chan-wook's past features, and has returned to assist with this North American release. Every moment of this picture looks absolutely stunning. The color palette is wonderful, as it greatly aids in developing this moody atmosphere. This is easily carried into the score, which has been created by Clint Mansell. Stoker is handled like a delicate piece of artwork through each stage of the visual design. This film beautifully transitions from one scene to the next with marvelous imagery.
This mysterious thriller premiered at Sundance to mixed reactions. It will ultimately appeal to a very specific audience in the film community. It's an artsy and dark piece of cinema that won't work for everybody, especially with its heavy use of metaphors. However, it trusts that the audience will be thinking throughout the picture, and won't depend on the movie to explain everything. This is the type of filmmaking that can be dissected and discussed for hours on end, as there are countless interpretations that could be drawn from what has been given. Stoker is the type of picture that begs to be seen multiple times in order to draw more from its content. Park Chan-wook's first North American release is a haunting piece of art that deserves attention from those looking for a fresh and unusual thriller. Highly recommended!