Stoker is the long awaited American debut from the cultishly loved South Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park, who is responsible not only for one of the best (and audibly disturbing) Vampire films ever made, but the ridiculously great, almost too great for words, Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance). All of those movies are massively beloved films. So much that it seems like a pretty daunting task for Chan-wook Park to enter American territories and make a film that is actually for OUR market. One had to wonder if Hollywood would force the often shocking director to tone it down or not. Or whether Stoker would be on the same level as his past films.
Oldboy is often, and rightfully so, claimed as Chan-wook Park’s best film. If you’ve seen it, than you know what I mean when I say that the director loves touching on controversial taboo subjects. While Hollywood seems to indeed have had Park’s controversial nature toned down a bit, it’s surprisingly not as much as you’d think. I left Stoker feeling extremely excited, but also extremely creeped out. Which is absolutely what you want from a Chan-wook Park film.
Stoker tells the story of a girl named India (Mia Wasikowska) who’s father has just died on birthday. Her mother (Nicole Kidman) is now an emotional wreck, as India’s uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) mysteriously shows up and moves into the house, despite most not knowing of his existence until his arrival. The rest of Stoker‘s mysteries are full of “did it happen or didn’t it” and are too interesting to spoil for you here.
This is a film that will become a cult classic among teenage girls who frequent Hot Topic. It’s a movie for a new generation of teenage girl angst. The imagery in Stoker is rich with gothic sub-textures and themes. But in a way that is at times maybe reminiscent of what Tim Burton was doing when he was still relevant. It’s never cheesy and always fits the story’s mood. The Cinematography always uses this to it’s advantage, crafting beautiful shot after beautiful shot.
Where Stoker is a good film, really it’s the film’s technical aspects that make it a great film. Chan-wook Park is known for his love of sound design (best example being Thirst‘s blood curling use of sucking and slurping noises) and this film is no exception. India’s character has the ability to hear things that no one else can. So everything is amplified x10. Such as the sound of a spider crawling up her leg, or the shell of an egg cracking as it’s being rolled around a table. Stoker puts so much emphasis on sound that towards the end it just feels natural that you’re hearing everything in a different context.
Stoker might not be the director’s best work, but it is certainly a worthy addition to his filmography. The film is loaded with beautiful cinematography, a fantastic audio track, and wonderful performances from the cast. Most notably, Matthew Goode, who makes just plays a creepy psychopath so damn well. It’s a film that deserves your time, your hearing, and your willingness to allow yourself to walk out the theater feeling slightly dirty and definitely creeped out, as if maybe you’ve intruded on something you weren’t intended to see.
I give Stoker a 4 out of 5.
By Richard Pepper