Writer: Elaine EweWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
Hitchcock films and "Oldboy"
Early reviews of "Stoker" have likened the film to Hitchcock's works, and it is easy to see why. Similar to Hitchcock's "Shadow Of A Doubt", from which screenwriter Wentworth Miller (yes, that guy from "Prison Break") has planted its roots in, "Stoker" is, however, definitely more like, Bram Stoker's "Dracula", which is said to be its main influence. On a macro level, it is a perverse tale of how one girl comes to terms with her sexuality and homicidal nature.
Without spoiling too much, "Stoker" begins with the death of Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney) in an auto arson, leading to the arrival of Charlie Stoker (Matthew Goode), or Uncle Charlie as the rest of the Stoker family calls him. Reclusive India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), who is very close to her father, is suspicious of the family's newest addition, while the emotionally unstable Evelyn Stoker (Nicole Kidman) is already looking to Charlie as Richard's replacement.
The film marks Korean director Park Chan-wook's English language debut, but for fans who are expecting a high-energy, blood-spattered entrance, they will be sorely disappointed. While there is still blood, "Stoker" is a slow-burner, exacerbated only by the turmoil within and between its characters. Park further aggrandises their situations with a magnificent soundtrack by Clint Mansell, who is known for scoring films like "Requiem For A Dream", "The Fountain" and "Black Swan". The main theme for "Stoker" seems to be punctuating acts of violence with supremely loud, single notes, or any other high-tension scene with loud background sounds such as the sound of eggshells cracking or the metronome ticking, and this technique works particularly well with Park's purposeful direction and the film's stunning cinematography. The film's cinematographer, Chung Chung-hoon, takes no prisoners for "Stoker"; every scene is crafted with care, every frame with precision. For example, the scene in the beginning where India sits to burst her blister is designed to mirror the angel statue opposite, telling us of her naivety. The film's crowning moment that exemplifies this marriage of elements (direction, cinematography and soundtrack) is the nerve-wrecking yet highly sexual scene where India plays a piano duet with Charlie.
It is this particular scene that summarises everything about "Stoker" perfectly. "Stoker" is no commentary on society, but a study of various deviants that we can only see if we throw them all into a house, or a family, if you will. However, the camera loves Wasikowska a little too much that at times it gets a little too uncomfortable watching yet another lingering shot of India's scantily-clad body or wide-open eyes or slightly open mouth. Literary references and symbolism abound, especially sexual connotations, which is classic Hitchcock; nevertheless, the overt sexualisation feels like it is pandering to audiences to compensate for the meandering story. We know from the beginning that India is not quite right, and Wasikowska gives an eerie performance as the socially-reclusive India that puts her up there as one of Hollywood's best newcomers. For Goode, who plays Uncle Charlie, whose character is meant to be a mirror to India, he is equally brilliant in his eerie performance, if not more, due to his uncanny piercing eyes. The chemistry between them is sizzling, but that could be because the two hardly take their eyes off each other.
The only character that feels out of place in this gothic horror melodrama is Kidman. There is nothing wrong with her acting; it is just that her role was written to be so one-dimensional that even the Stoker's housekeeper, Mrs. McGarrick, sums her up as someone "India needs to take care of" (not an exact quote by the way). In "Stoker", Kidman is basically an object that bears testimony to India's characterisation and the catalyst for her eventual coming-of-age. Never is she portrayed as a human being, which is irksome considering that she gets top billing alongside Wasikowska and Goode. Her monologue where she finally revealed her thoughts on being a mother to India is her best in the film, which means that Park just needed to have some faith in Kidman to play out roles unlike the fragile waif that she is often relegated to.
In summary, "Stoker" feels like a weird love child of Hitchcock's suspenseful direction and Terrence Malick's beautiful cinematography. You wouldn't say that Park Chan-wook is up there in Hollywood as he is in Korean cinema with "Stoker", but he seems to be heading in the right direction. Bear in mind though, that the film is definitely not for everyone. It may be an arresting and satisfying piece of work that engulfs you, but it will leave you feeling like you need a quick shower.Cinema Online, 28 February 2013