Directed by Park Chan-wook
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney
Written by Wentworth Miller
Park Chan-Wook is one of the most exciting filmmakers we have. While usually tending to stick to brutal subject matters, Park also loves challenging himself, as experienced in his short film Night Fishing, shot entirely on iPhone 4 cameras. With Stoker, Park brings his slick style of filmmaking to the west, and while it may not be as operatic as some of his earlier pictures, Park’s uncompromising style of making pictures remains in tact.
That reason alone is enough to celebrate Stoker, but there just happens to Greek tragedy by way of Alfred Hitchcock wrapped inside this package. Wentworth Miller (of “Prison Break” and Resident Evil: Afterlife fame) pens a twisted tale that in other hands would come away as serviceable. There’s problems, sure, but Miller should be thankful he’s in the company of such expert filmmakers, elevating his screenplay to an almost masterpiece.
One of those pieces is editor Nicholas De Toth, who does career work here. While his previous ventures in blockbusters such as Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and X-Men Origins: Wolverine came away as fairly standard, De Toth’s unchained. With every dissolve, every cut, De Toth shows mastery over the form of editing.
It’d also be silly to discuss Stoker and not mention Chung-hoon Chung’s brilliant cinematography. A long-time collaborator of Park’s, Mr. Chung frames every image like an old family portrait, seldom using red except to illustrate bloodshed. Credit must also be given to the entire sound team for their tremendous efforts, including composer Clint Mansell’s eerie and stylish score. The score and foley work, married with Chung’s imagery, create some lovely cinema.
But of course, there are the performers themselves, and what a show they give. Mia Wasikowska is nearly flawless as India Stoker, and commands the picture through her piercing eyes. Oddly, she feels most comfortable when the script allows her to go to darker places. Matthew Goode’s Uncle Charlie is suave and creepy, with Goode delving a little into territory he explored as Adrian Veidt in Watchmen, albeit this time with a director who knows what he’s doing. Goode crackles every time he’s on screen, and has terrific chemistry with Wasikowska.
Yet if there’s one weak link in the chain, it’d be Nicole Kidman as Evie Stoker. Ms. Kidman has more than proven her worth over the years, but now it seems as if she just shows up in films to act in one scene, and coast the rest of the way. Maybe this has more to do with the character of Evie than it does Kidman’s performance, but she’s an annoyance until her final few scenes where she finally decides to act. Perhaps that’s the point of her character, and it’s tough to put it past a brilliant director like Park Chan-wook at making a choice like that. It’s one of the very few flaws Stoker has, but not enough to sink the ship.
What Stoker really is, is a celebration. Park is one of the best filmmakers of this generation, and his daring and uncompromising way of making films deserves to infest American cinemas time and again. Stoker may not be a masterpiece, but when you’re a director of Park’s caliber, ‘a great movie’ can be masked as a masterwork among your contemporaries. We need more filmmakers like Park, and more films like Stoker; that challenge their audience and treat them as adults.