Cinema Review: Stoker

| February 28, 2013 | Comments (0)

 

DIR: Chan-wook Park • WRI: Wentworth Miller, Erin Cressida Wilson •  PRO: Michael Costigan, Ridley Scott,  Tony Scott  • DOP: Chung-hoon Chung • ED: Nicolas De Toth • DES: Thérèse DePrez • CAST: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode

 

Like many J-Horror and Hong Kong action directors past, it was inevitable that several of the talented and successful Korean Wave directors would eventually emigrate to Hollywood. It makes sense: that is where the money is, and there’s already a cult audience in English-speaking territories. Unfortunately, as has been proven by the likes of John Woo and Hideo Nakata, increased resources do not always directly equate to artistic triumphs. No matter: two cult Koreans have decided to give it a go regardless. The subversive genre master Kim Jee-woon made the transition only a few weeks ago withThe Last Stand – generally regarded as a decent enough effort but a far cry from the bold and provocative likes of I Saw the Devil or A Tale of Two Sisters. Can Park Chan-wook – director of the beloved Vengeance Trilogy and Thirst – do any better with his English language debut Stoker?

 

Breathe a sigh of relief, Oldboy fans! While it’s questionable whether Stoker will be quite as warmly received as his previous work, Park has ensured he’s hit Hollywood soil at a sprint. It becomes quickly apparent that stylistically at least this is a film every bit as demented, eccentric and intoxicating as his native-language fare. Stoker is a film that builds its creepy, intense atmosphere around boldly cinematic language. Chan-wook has made the wise decision to bring his frequent cinematography collaborator Chung-hoon Chung along for the ride, and together they record a huge amount of rich images. Consistently offbeat framing choices and distinctive lighting perfectly suit the film’s strange goings-on. Added to this is the visceral editing that allows the already powerful images to truly resonate. This is perhaps the most stunningly presented mainstream release 2013 has yet offered. Clint Mansell offers a suitably effective score.

 

Lucky the film’s style is so enchanting, as the director is working with a script (written, somewhat bizarrely, by the Prison Break lead actor Wentworth Miller) that necessitates such an imaginative presentation. The title refers to the Stoker family, particularly teenage India (an excellent Mia Wasikowska). After her father dies, she’s not left alone with her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) for too long before long lost uncle Charles (Matthew Goode) comes to stay – in fact, he doesn’t even leave after the funeral. Evelyn is welcoming of such a charming male presence, but India is immediately less fond of her mysterious uncle. Suspicions are further raised following a brief visit by aunt Gwendolyn (JackiWeaver) who is visibly not too happy about Charles’ sudden reappearance. It is clear all is not as it seems.

 

For the first hour, this is all perfectly serviceable stuff: it’s weird, disturbing, darkly comic and – as is to be expected from Park Chan-wook – cheekily perverse. The performances are strong, particularly from the talented Wasikowska, who has finally been granted a lead role that makes great use out of obvious talents under-utilised in the likes of Alice in Wonderland. It’s the last half-hour that struggles to sustain the cleverness, with a few unconvincing and predictable developments proving to be notable script weak points.

 

Luckily, even as the script falters, Chan-wook gives it his all, and the film is consistently imaginatively directed. At ninety minutes it also doesn’t overstay its welcome, and makes up for a few prior shortcomings with a killer ending. The greatest compliment that we can pay to the Korean auteur – for the first time working with someone else’s screenplay – is that this script in the hands of any other director would likely fail to ignite. Under his guiding hand, Stoker is instead damn close to a triumph.

Stephen McNeice

18 (see IFCO website for details)
98mins
Stoker is released on 1st March 2013

Stoker  – Official Website

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