“Stoker,” or the Film with Three Australians


Stoker (Chan-wook Park, 2013)

How embarrassing – I watched this film at a special sneak preview on January 24, yet I am only now publishing my review. Stoker opened in Baltimore on March 15, but since I was away on vacation that week, I just couldn’t quite motivate to write up my thoughts. Speaking of which, here are some photos from my trip to Curaçao. Perhaps they will help explain why I didn’t feel like being indoors typing. That, and I only had my iPad with me, and that thing – while convenient and cool as hell – is just not good for creation. It’s great for consumption, however.

So what about this movie? The simplest way to describe it is to say that it is a brilliant and beautiful stylistic exercise in search of a meaning. At its center there is no there there. It’s all visual contrivance and no script. Or, at least, no third act of the script. To make a crazy comparison (and why not?!? the film invites all sorts of madness!), it’s like Hancock in that two thirds of it are really intriguing and even fun (though here, in a macabre way), and the final third is just absolutely mediocre (though, to give it credit, Stoker is superior to Hancock).

Another way to describe the film is that it is the movie with three Australians: Nicole Kidman, Jacki Weaver, and Mia Wasikowska. One of them is wasted (Kidman, in a thankless part that anyone could have played), the other is OK (Weaver, so fine in Silver Linings Playbook), and one of them is amazing (Wasikowska, who continues to impress, from The Kids Are All Right to Jane Eyre and beyond). None of them play Australians in this film, however.

The director, Chan-wook Park, is Korean, and boy do I want to see some of his other films, now. His ability to create atmosphere through lighting, sound and editing is simply stunning. I’ve heard great things about his Oldboy, and I think I must get off my duff and watch it (actually – sitting on my duff is probably how I will watch it . . .).

So what’s it about? When the film opens, India (Wasikowska) has just lost her father (a miscast Dermot Mulroney – then again, the man is so rarely well cast), She and her mother (Kidman) are in mourning, albeit in their own uniquely strange way – setting off alarm bells that all is not as it seems – when who should show up but Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode, ever handsomely creepy/creepily handsome). As a Hitchcock fan, I, of course, immediately thought of Shadow of a Doubt, in which Joseph Cotten plays a criminal uncle with an almost inappropriately close relationship to his niece. And guess what? In Stoker, Uncle Charlie sets up house and develops an intense and inappropriately flirtatious relationship with India. He is grooming her for something. What? Her destiny, it appears. Ooooh (actually, it’s kind of cool).

All of this, so far, contributes to a confusing jumble of a plot, but it’s all so well tied together through Park’s masterful mise-en-scène that I didn’t care. I was along for the ride. It all felt so supernatural and portentous. And then, suddenly, the script took a turn for the pedestrian, and I lost interest. I won’t spoil it except to say that it didn’t live up to the promise of the beginning.

If you can stomach much ado about nothing at all, then you’ll be fine. Just sit back and enjoy the visuals and the sound, and the masturbation scene in the shower. Ha! Got you with that one. Now you’ll just HAVE to watch . . .


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