Saturday, March 9, 2013

Review: "Stoker"

Stoker was one of the most interesting trailer released in 2012. It is the first English-language film from acclaimed Korean director Park Chan-wook. I am uncultured when it comes to most Asian cinema, so it should come as no surprise that I have never seen any of his films. His most notable film Oldboy won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2004. For his first English film, Park Chan-wook has assembled quite a cast. Stoker stars Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska as a mother and daughter dealing with the death of the young girl's father. The film is beautifully photographed with fantastically dark imagery. The performances are top notch, especially from Wasikowska and Matthew Goode. Stoker is a thriller and pseudo-horror film that takes reveals too much too soon, and this negatively affects the film's tension. The screenplay was written by former Prison Break star Wentworth Miller. The film appeared on the 2010 Black List, a list of the ten best unproduced screenplays. A lot of things work with Stoker, but there are also quite a few inconsistencies and poorly-plotted choices. It is great to see Nicole Kidman continuing to choose risky film roles that allow her to continue to evolve as an actress. She and Mia Wasikowska are an intriguing pair, wonderfully matched as mother and daughter. Both women have an ability to emote so much with their eyes while keeping their faces unresponsive (is this why Siobhan calls Kidman Granny Freeze?). Stoker works as a visual piece of art, with awkwardly-paced scenes and beautifully decorated scenes, but it lacks a little energy as a narrative. With a running time of 99 minutes, Stoker would have been better off giving more attention to character development. A lot works, especially the acting, but it just feels like a puzzle missing one important piece.

When Evelyn Stoker's (Kidman) husband dies, her husband's brother Charlie (Goode) arrives to stay. Evelyn's daughter India (Wasikowska) is angered by his arrival, having never known the man existed. She watches as Uncle Charlie becomes close to her mother. Even a visit from Aunt Gin (Jacki Weaver) does not diminish Evelyn's interest in her brother-in-law. Eventually India is unable to resist her uncle's charms and she becomes drawn to him.

Stoker wants us to believe that India is a regular teenage girl struggling through high school. Mia Wasikowska is twenty-three years old, which is hardly too old to be playing eighteen. Yet, there is a disturbing juxtaposition between teenage India and adult India in the film. We see her dealing with juvenile insults aimed at her last name and fighting off the advances of teenage boys. But we also see her seducing her uncle. I say this is a disturbing comparison because so little attention is given to India the high school student. Why does it matter that Whip (Alden Ehrenreich) and Chris (Lucas Till) insult her? It is hardly shocking when she meets Whip late at night and has to be saved by her uncle. I wish that the plot of Stoker had ben more tightly resolved. So many elements work, and with Park Chan-wook's visuals, the film could be more than late-winter filler.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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