Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published August 6th 2013
A strange and stylish thriller
Director: Chan-wook Park (Old Boy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Jacki Weaver
Schlocky South Korean stylist Chan-wook Park makes his English language debut with Stoker, highlighting the kind of pitfalls that so often beset a figurehead of world cinema when entering the Hollywood system. No wonder Pedro Almodovar has stayed in Spain all these years.
Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska as mother and daughter
Stoker begins promisingly, with Park's entrancing visual flourishes filling the screen from the opening credits. We enter the repressed world of the Stoker family. The camera sweeps and glides ostentatiously in a giddy homage to Hitchcock. Indeed, Nicole Kidman gives off the kind of icy aura that old Hitch used to seek in his leading ladies.
Although Stoker is a thriller of sorts, with a fairly high body count, Park is more interested here in gleaning chills by training his camera on the minutiae of creepy happenings, like a blood encrusted pencil being sharpened or a spindly spider crawling between a woman's knees.
This is all very alluring at first, but such breathless beauty soon gets taken over by the sheer silliness of the story. Ostensibly the Stokers are mourning the death of the family patriarch when his hitherto unknown brother (Matthew Goode) suddenly appears, seducing in turn the dead man's wife (Kidman) and then his daughter (Mia Wasikowska).
Wasikowska actually does a great job, captivating us with her special kind of stillness. It's a mean feat, especially considering her character's motivations are completely unfathomable.
She is the youngest of three generations of Aussie actresses in the film. Jacki Weaver manages to register her presence despite what little there is for her to work with. Kidman does little, which is only to be expected since at this point in her rhinoplastic metamorphosis, there's not a great deal her face can do. In close up she has a certain porcelain beauty, but in longer shots it looks like she's wearing some kind of ghoulish mask. I have no idea why an actor would want to de-mobilise their facial expressions, but I guess women feel the pressure to stay young in Hollywood.
Even if you're a fan of style over substance, chances are you'll be disappointed with Stoker. It starts off being a strange but beautiful bird, but ultimately becomes a turkey.