You may know Korean director Park Chan-wook from his vengeance trilogy, Mr, Lady and, uh, Boy* and have high expectations for his first English language feature, Stoker. You may also presume it’s about vampires, based on knowing nothing but the title, or maybe that was just me.
The film stars Mia Wasikowska as India Stoker, and opens with her searching for her birthday present while her father dies a fiery (offscreen) death. India has some kind of superhuman sensitivity, she can see and hear things in great detail, from distance. When her creepy uncle Charlie turns up at her father’s funeral, he seems to have these abilities as well and has some kind of plan in mind for her (as well as a different, sexier plan for her newly-widowed mother, Nicole Kidman).
A lot of the film is taken up by these two characters circling each other, trying to figure out what the other is up to, while the audience try to figure out if there’s a supernatural element or just a meeting of weird minds.
Park’s vengeance films, of which I’m a big fan, were written by himself. Stoker was the first script by Wentworth Miller, most well known for Prison Break (where he broke into a prison – highest of high concepts). Maybe that’s the difference. I was happy to run with it as it was going on, it’s definitely entertaining, and it even seems at one point that it all coalesces into a ball of understanding. But if you glance away and think about it for very long, not much of it actually makes any sense.
I can’t get into things too much without just detailing the plot, but there’s a build of interesting things that you expect will pay off down the line, but in most cases the payoff just opens more questions, largely of the “wait, why didn’t x do y” variety. I’m probably too harsh on a film like this, which is almost fairytale-like in its (lack of) logic, and is mostly about style and experience. But I want both damn it. Give me a beautifully shot, well told story or give me death.
What’s good though?
It’s dense with atmosphere. Cinematography and sound are both excellent, as are the performances. The film is full of closeups, overhearing, and sneaking around. As I said, it’s mostly about style, so at least in that department it’s pretty damn stylish.
Stoker is worth your eyes, if not the full use of your brain.
*Seriously though, if you haven’t seen Oldboy, go check it out before it’s remade.