When I first heard about Chan Wook Park, director of Oldboy and Joint Security Area gearing up for his first English language film, I was both thrilled and scared of the outcome. Thrilled at the possibility of him making something that would be as good, if not better than his previous efforts. Scared at the possibility that his sensibilities and strengths as a filmmaker would be diluted for American audiences. The outcome, Stoker is a somewhat frustrating affair, that has both strengths and weaknesses, that ultimately make it an average film. On the day of her 18th birthday, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) learns that her father has just died in a fatal automotive accident. At the funeral, her long lost uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode) shows up to console her and her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). India immediately takes a defensive stance against Charlie, as he slowly immerses himself as a new member of the family. Lines are crossed, mysteries are revealed and skeletons begin to plummet out of the closet for all of the members of the Stoker family.
Its easy to see what attracted Park to the script, written by Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller. With its incestuous themes and taboo subject matter, its reminiscent of Park’s previous efforts in South Korea. Stylistically, this film delivers every step of the way and manages to be one of the slickest looking films of Park’s career. With the help of the beautiful imagery created by cinematographer Chung Hoon Chung and the astonishing editing done by Nicolas De Toth, Stoker gives us one of the best looking films of 2013. Everything from the color palate, to camera movement, Chung’s cinematography is super slick and deserves to be seen and experienced on a nice, large screen. De Toth manages to integrate some of the best transitions I’ve ever seen in a film and brings a flair to each scene unlike any other editor I’ve seen before.
While Stoker is clearly achieving all of these elements on technical merits, the main issues lie with the films plotting and presentation. While I have no problems with cold and sterile characters, I found myself having the most difficult time trying to find a way to like anyone I saw on screen. Every actor in the film did a fine job in their performances, but they’re extremely distant. Much of this goes away, once you get the entirety of the family’s history of mental illness, but by then, we don’t have much of the ability to care, like or understand the Stoker family at all. A part of me wonders if this is a result on Park’s direction and decision to make these characters so far removed from reality, to further explore his reoccurring themes of familial bonds that make us who we are.
While I love the fact that I’ve seen this film, Stoker certainly left me wanting more. More of the comedic tone that Park has fused into his films and much more life and a script that would have been able to infuse souls into its characters. Stoker would have benefitted tremendously from this, but manages to crash and burn, as much as it soars for its 99 minute running time.