Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode
Upon the sudden death of her father (Dermot Mulroney), India, (Mia Wasikowska) and her mother Eve (Nicole Kidman) welcome into their home the deceased patriarch’s long lost younger brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode). While on the surface the mysterious Charlie seems to be charming, affable, and well-intentioned, India cannot shake the feeling that there is something darker beneath the surface, even as her mother seems to take the newcomer’s arrival in stride, perhaps even invitingly. The longer he stays, however, the more intriguing he becomes to the typically quiet India.
Acclaimed Korean director Park Chan-wook’s English language debut, Stoker comes, via a screenplay from actor Wentworth Miller and was also produced by Ridley Scott and the late Tony Scott. Park’s visual style and ‘go for the gusto’ brand of filmmaking is evident right from the first reel. His eye for detail is staggering. There is an amazing use of angles and symbolism in the film, and my mind was actively processing throughout the film. Camera movement is good when it happens, but his static work is probably more intriguing and engaging. He gives an almost modern gothic sensibility to the world of the film, somewhere between our time and the 1950’s.
Performances are good all around, with the brunt of the work being placed upon Wasikowska and Goode. Wasikowska’s India is anti-social but analytical, and her youth is a major theme of the film. Though she has reservations about her beloved father’s virtually unknown brother, her burgeoning womanhood and the argument of nature vs. nurture play huge roles as the crux of the film. Goode’s is terrifically creepy as ‘Uncle Charlie,’ his winning smile quickly making converts but never quite reaching his eyes. You feel he has something bubbling beneath the surface but you don’t know exactly what. Whatever it is, he is definitely aware that he is smarter than the characters, and certainly the audience. Nicole Kidman turns in a decent performance, and though her character is never fully explored as well as Goode’s and Wasikowska’s, she has some good moments, especially some catty moments with her onscreen daughter, India.
The movie is gorgeous. Fantastic set design and a real visual eye, via Chung Chung-hoon, creates some indelible imagery. Terrific use of light and shadow, along with sparse, but intelligently, utilized computer effects, combine to create an almost otherworldly locale for this odd tale. Sound design really stands out as well; the openness of the set and the emptiness of the house is thick with tension through the great sound direction. The ‘clop’ of shoe heels, the cracking of egg shells, and the deafening use of silence had me actively engaged throughout the picture. The soundtrack is a mix of eerie and classic music, with some good pieces from the great Philip Glass and understated work by composer Clint Mansell. Effective and moody, the soundtrack is a solid accompaniment to the splendid visuals on display.
A visually grand and well-acted film, Stoker is very solid debut from one my favorite Korean auteurs. It is a lot more like his native films than I expected, and thankfully so. It is mature and unapologetic cinema that makes the viewer run a gamut of emotions and triggers. Its mix of genres and use of misdirection is challenging and thought-provoking, and I for one, wait anxiously for a chance to revisit the film.
You may enjoy the film if you liked: Let the Right One In, Shadow of Doubt, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, and/or Wait Until Dark