Stoker (2013)

A disappointing effort by Korean auteur Park Chan-wook – an unfortunate case of too much style and too little substance.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Review #865

Dir. Park Chan-wook
2013 | UK/USA | Drama/Mystery | 98 mins | 2.35:1 | English, French & Italian
M18 (passed clean)  for disturbing violent and sexual content

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Jacki Weaver
Plot: After India’s father dies, her Uncle Charlie, who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother. She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.
Awards: Official Selection (Sundance & Rotterdam)

Distributor: Fox

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing – Family
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 7 Mar 2013
Spoilers: No

Oh dear me, this is one of the most disappointing films of the year. Stoker tries too hard to please fans of director Park Chan-wook, myself included, that it loses sight of what makes good cinema – the execution of a good story.

Based on a screenplay by Wentworth Miller (whose claim to fame came from starring in the ‘Prison Break’ television series), Stoker has a story of immense potential, but its presentation is muddled by a seemingly impotent script, of which Miller has to share the blame, and too strong a visual statement by Park. The result is too much style over too little substance, and a film best forgotten quickly.

India (Mia Wasikowska) is a reclusive young woman who lives in a huge house with her mother (Nicole Kidman). Her father recently died in an accident, and soon after his funeral, an uncle whom she doesn’t know existed called Charles (Matthew Goode) appears at her home. That’s all you need to know as this mystery-drama attempts to suck you into the twisted world of Park.

Unfortunately, it not only did not suck me in, it somewhat repelled me. This is a pretentious film masquerading as a work of art, providing beautiful (and haunting) imagery, but is severely lacking in the kind of narrative quality that made Park’s previous works like Oldboy (2003) and Thirst (2009) so captivating and memorable.

“He used to say, sometimes you need to do something bad to stop you from doing something worse.”

Apart from the lack of narrative thrust, some of the supporting characters are at best half-baked, in particular the character played by Jacki Weaver, whose purpose in the film is questionable.

The performances are at least decent, but in the attempt to play around with temporal elements such as cutting back and forth between past and present to create some sort of mystery and ambiguity, much of the fine acting become lost in the visual style and self-conscious editing.

Stoker is a clear example of a cinema of excess, but while excess can be gratifying, it is distracting here. Even the film’s aural design and the choice of music (except the original score by Clint Mansell) are culpable of being too overbearing at times – the final nail in its coffin coming in the epilogue.

Stoker can be disturbing as it deals with themes, including incest and sexual maturity, in a psychosexual way. Though this is all quite tame when compared to Park’s best works. One also suspects that Park might have had to compromise on his vision to win some commercial viability.

With so much talent behind and in front of the camera, this was one of the more anticipated films of the year. Unfortunately, Stoker fails to live up to expectations, and even Park’s trademark suspense is missing. But you cannot complain that his Hollywood debut is lacking in style. Well, the ball is now in your court, Bong Joon-ho.

Grade: C




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