Stoker (2013)
By: Stuart Giesel on July 24, 2013 | Comments
20th Century Fox | Region A | 2.40:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD MA 5.1 | 99 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Chan-wook Park
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
Screenplay: Wentworth Miller
Country: USA, UK
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Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook, director of the greatest movie trilogy of all time (the Vengeance trilogy, fact) brings his stylish brand of cinematic violence to the West in Stoker. Written by Wentworth Miller (yes, that Wentworth Miller), Stoker sees Park try to emulate the elegant yet grisly visuals of the Vengeance trilogy for a story about a dysfunctional family, with mixed results. There are some extraordinary shots, the editing is tight, performances focused, yet it doesn't quite satisfy. Think of Stoker as a really twisted coming-of-age story rather than a satisfying companion piece to Park's Korean output and you'll probably appreciate it more.

India Stoker's (Mia Wasikowska) father Richard dies on her eighteenth birthday in a horrible car accident. To India's displeasure, her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) doesn't seem to be grieving as much as India expects. Certainly, the bond between father and daughter was much stronger than mother and daughter; for one, India would often go on hunting trips with her father (played by Dermot Mulroney). To everyone's surprise, Richard's enigmatic and supremely creepy brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to visit. This is a surprise because, up until this point, India didn't even know of Charlie's existence. Charlie soon makes his presence felt, first charming the skirt off of Evelyn, before turning his predatory attention to India herself.

Let's just say that the events in Stoker don't quite go the way you might imagine. You know that under Park's watchful eye things will get messy, but things aren't quite so cut-and-dry as the synopsis suggests. Park is a master of not letting the grand guignol moments overshadow the smaller ones. In fact, the major gripe with Stoker is that it feels like it's building to a monumental climax, possibly because we've been conditioned by the brilliant Oldboy to expect some absolutely shocking and horrendous moments. But ultimately the narrative thread disappoints, and Park can't quite meet expectations. Whilst there are parts of Stoker that see Park up to his old tricks, the payoff doesn't quite live up to what's come before it. He doesn't wallow in any one violent moment too gratuitously - it's more about creating a severely unsettling tone rather than bathing the screen in gore. Like Park's vampire fable Thirst and the Vengeance trilogy, Stoker relies on amplified, grisly sound effects to generate a lot of the sense of unease. The film looks and sounds sublime; shame that it is ultimately underwhelming. It never delivers the gut-punch that any of the Vengeance films did.

You can't blame the actors, though - the characters in Miller's script are a pretty unpleasant lot. None of the characters save Jacki Weaver's brief appearance as a family aunt or Stoker patriarch Richard generate much empathy. Surprisingly, Nicole Kidman comes closest; she's generally an actor I find not the slightest bit endearing on-screen, and here she has no qualms about playing a really lousy, slutty mother, but she actually manages to present a fragile, desperate and all-too-human side to her character. Craving human contact, her scenes with Wasikowska are some of the best in the film. India, the film's main protagonist, is a difficult one to read, which makes Wasikowska's job a challenging one considering we're supposed to be on her side. It's not until the end when the script makes it clear the true psyche of her character that you get a sense of the tremendous job Wasikowska has done with her role. Goode's Charlie is a more cut-and-dry, wide-eyed psychopath, and if Goode overplays the creepiness factor at times, it's not a deal breaker. Oh, and it's interesting to see three Aussie actresses together in a Hollywood film of this sort - go girls!

So chalk up Stoker as a decent effort that'll be remembered, if anything, as Park Chan-wook's first English-language film. It promises much, delivers only some, but admittedly does linger long in the mind after the fact, so if Park and writer Miller's intent was to have their film burrow its way into your head to lay eggs of unease, mission accomplished.
The Disc
Stoker looks glorious in high-def; the detail is sublime, every inch of the frame full of beauty, even if that is especially grotesque or unsettling beauty. Darks are beautifully dark and there's no crushing to report, and those sunlit scenes are especially striking. But even the gloomiest part of the Stoker mansion brims with detail.

Sound is even better. Park loves his enhanced, exaggerated sound effects to really drive home the action, be it the subtle (the ever-so-slight taps of a spider's legs) or overblown (a particular act of violence that won't be described here, but is sure to have you flinching in your seat). The audio presentation is excellent, with immersive use of sound design to really drive home this twisted story. Clint Mansell's score enhances but never distracts from the on-screen proceedings.

The disc comes loaded with a decent assortment of extras, the best being the half-hour making-of Stoker: A Filmmaker's Journey. This feature is of particular interest to fans of the director, as it sees him struggle with getting his film made without knowing much English at all - it certainly explains part of why he was so drawn to a script which pars down the dialogue. The feature also covers various aspects of the film including the visual and aural style, and the difficulty of shooting much of the film in a mansion. Theatrical Behind-the-Scenes are five short making-of featurettes, but much of the material was used in A Filmmaker's Journey.

There are three Deleted Scenes (or extended scenes, really) which would have added little to the finished film other than bolster the runtime. Photography by Mary Ellen Mark is a series of on-set photos - I don't know about you but it's hard to get thrilled with any of these photographic libraries as features. London Theater Design provides more stills from Stoker's London premiere - whoopdie-frigging-do.

Finally, Red Carpet Footage provides a quarter-hour of just that - not especially interesting, and the sound is pretty terrible and blown out - and there's a music clip, "Becomes the Color" Performance by Emily Wells. Trailers, TV Spots and Sneak Peeks round out the disc.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Stoker comes as something of a disappointment from a director best known for the ferocious Vengeance trilogy. Performances are solid, the film looks and sounds a treat, but ultimately it ends with a whimper, not the bang some of us might have been expecting. Put aside some of the visually-arresting shots and you realise the film raises some interesting points but never really explores them satisfactorily. Chalk this up as a lot of style and not quite so much substance.
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