By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
South Korea has been producing some exciting, innovative directors who have been getting a larger international profile as of late, and as always seems to happen, three of the biggest are Hollywood bound. Kim Ji-woon’s (The Good, the Bad, and the Weird) The Last Stand just hit theaters with a thud (although it was entertaining enough) and Bong Joon-ho (The Host) will see his dystopian comic book adaptation Snowpiercer debut later this year. The biggest name of them all, though, is the acclaimed Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) and Stoker is his baby.
The film follows India (Mia Wasikowska), whose official entry into adulthood is unfortunately sullied by the death of her father on the same day. This, understandably, throws her into full Wednesday Addams mode.
Victorian widow is the new emo
This is exacerbated by the appearance of Charlie (Matthew Goode), the uncle she never even knew she had, who functionally takes her father’s place by moving in and drawing her oblivious mother’s (Nicole Kidman) affections. What begins as hate starts to turn into something else through Charlie’s dark charms and the growing realization that she and her uncle share certain “proclivities.”
This film positively drips with style. While Kim Ji-woon felt unfortunately reined in with The Last Stand, it’s clear that the producers of Stoker told Park Chan-wook to go hogwild, and he certainly does. Everything from the opening credits to the smallest set detail is stylized to the hilt, which I can only applaud when so many other cookie-cutter genre films come out each year. The film is undeniably a Park Chan-wook film, and each skewed shot or use of incidental music demonstrate why he’s one of the most unique voices in film today. I seriously doubt I’ll see a scene this year undeniably superior to Charlie and India’s piano duet.
The acting is strong all-around. Kidman redeems herself with strong work towards the end, while Wasikowska handles her central transformation very well. For me, though, Matthew Goode’s chilling, sociopath performance was the big standout, and as always Jacki Weaver completely steals the show for her few scenes. Good god damn she’s a fine actress.
The script itself topped the Blacklist of best unproduced screenplays a few years back, and from a storytelling perspective it’s easy to see why. It wrings complexities out of a fairly standard setup and provides plenty for everyone involved to chew on, leading up to a strong, strong ending (and badass credits song). Did I mention Wentworth Miller, from Prison Break, wrote the thing? Why, that’s almost as crazy as Danny Strong from Buffy the Vampire Slayer turning into a high-profile screenwriter.
Oh wait, he has?
Sometimes it’s a good thing to have someone around to tell you ‘no’. I’m glad Park Chan-wook got what appears to be full control, but just ask Michael Cimino how that worked out for him. The result here is that stunning sequences like the piano scene are coupled with hamfisted ones like Wasikowska spinning the ‘ol turntable in the shower while thinking of murder. Whether it’s the fault of Miller or Park, the film is filled to the brim with symbolism. If you don’t think that sounds bad, you will when you see those two scraping the bottom of the symbolism barrel.
Yeah, I get it. Clever.
A good chunk of the symbolism in the film isn’t the only thing suffering from the blatantly obvious. The score reeks of it, and would have been better left out, and several edits and pieces of dialogue are also terribly on the nose. And clearly Park loaded up his cart at Caricatures ‘R Us when it came time to cast the high school bullies in the film.
This is destined to be one of the biggest ‘Love it or Hate it’ films of the year. I can see a case made for either side, but despite it’s obvious issues, I loved Stoker.
Take a Drink: every time a belt is focused on
Take a Drink: whenever India eavesdrops
Take a Drink: whenever she glowers or pouts
Do a Shot: for every sexual innuendo you spot