Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Mathew Goode
You may like this if you liked: The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar, 2011), Wild at Heart (David Lynch, 1990), American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)
India Stoker (Wasikowska) is an 18 year old who lives a lonely existence but is happy for it to be that way as she is very close to her dad. When her father is suddenly killed this turns India’s world upside down, especially as it means spending more time with her emotionally unstable mother Evie (Kidman). The plot thickens when her estranged uncle Charlie (Goode) arrives at the funeral and Evie invites him to live there. What then develops is a bizarre love triangle as India and Charlie develop a strange, dark and murderous relationship despite Evie’s designs on Charlie.
This may not sound like the most exciting story, but trust me that story wise that is pretty much it. Anyone who has seen any previous films by Chan-wook Park such as Old Boy will know not to exactly expect Mary Poppins and though Stoker is perhaps a little more subtle than Old Boy it is still a film with very dark themes that is most definitely an acquired taste. Story and dialogue wise Stoker is in my opinion an extremely average film that is most definitely style over substance with in fact very little style. Thankfully Park’s visual flair and attention to detail is there to see throughout and that along with some memorable performances truly elevate this film into something better than it ever should have been.
This is most definitely a film made by a film lover for film lovers with Park truly enjoying himself. There are plenty of subtle and blatant but always playful references to various films and literature of the past. The fact this is all done so playfully adds to the good fun as there is a constant feeling of gallows humour throughout the narrative. This is a film that knows it is not teaching any moral lessons or trying to prove a point to anyone so keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek and never stops primarily being fun.
The attention to detail is what shows the passion and enjoyment Stoker is made with as the furnishings of the Stoker house, the lush outside landscapes and Clint Mansell’s excellent and slightly disconcerting score create a great atmosphere of dread, mystery and claustrophobia. Stoker is a perfect example of the different tricks and techniques that can be used by a film maker being utilised and this for me provided a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The striking imagery creates a plethora of subtexts and themes which I will not interpret here but they are all very enjoyable to spot and different viewers will inevitably find different meanings in them.
The performances are all excellent and really bring this story to life. Wasikowska is an absolute revelation and captures so many emotions in her subtle facial expressions. Kidman gives her best performance for ages and Goode is delightfully creepy, perhaps a little OTT but this is perfectly fitting with the tone of the film so works perfectly and it is obvious he is thoroughly enjoying himself.
However as much fun as Stoker is I know for a fact that many will find this annoying and alienating (and yes possibly a little pretentious) and so therefore absolutely hate this film. In terms of story though as with everything it is very easy to over analyse and say the film is about this or that, but for me there is actually very little here in terms of actual substance. The few plot twists towards the end are very obvious and add little in terms of surprise, but are simply just fun. The ending is also a little predictable and the very ending will frustrate as many viewers as it delights.
I know this is a film that has received a lot of praise and though Park deserves tremendous credit in my view Stoker is in no way a great film. I personally took very little away from this but thoroughly enjoyed it as for me it was just fun and at 99 minutes it does not outstay its welcome. I know many people will have a different experience but as Stoker never takes itself seriously neither could I. With a film as visual and subtle as Stoker it is very easy to dwell on what certain images mean or if there are underlying themes within the narrative, but I am not going to. Different viewers will have different interpretations and none of these are wrong as that is what makes it a unique experience. I personally choose not to think about that too much and feel that enabled me to enjoy the film more and take it at face value. As with anything, if someone one thinks Stoker is about something in particular then the evidence to prove it can be found. One of the reasons for films existing is to entertain and I found Stoker very entertaining and appreciated the attention to detail and deeply effective sense of atmosphere, but personally no more.
Stoker is a uniquely visual experience that is darkly entertaining and good fun; if you do not take it seriously then Park’s visual flair, attention to detail and the impressive cast provide 99 minutes worth investing in. However for those who want a little more substance and old fashioned story telling may well hate this film so be warned.