Release Date: 1st March 2013
Director: Chan-Wook Park
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney, Ralph Brown
Stoker, Chan-Wook Park’s first fling with western cinema, and his first full length feature since 2009’s Thirst, is a thoroughly mixed bag. And by mixed bag, I mean it’s like getting a Pick ‘n’ Mix that mostly contains Black Jacks with the odd foam shrimp or white mouse thrown in. Now, you might like Black Jacks. You might think Black Jacks are little black nuggets of joy: cool, sleek, sophisticated. Or like me, you could just think they’re soulless, trite and, erm, bitter. If you’re a fan of (fairly crap) thinly veiled metaphors like this, then you’ll love Stoker. You’ll be positively drooling at the mouth, writhing around in ecstasy as the screen throws more ham-fisted symbolism at you than an amateur film critic taking an idea and running with it.
Teenage weirdo India Stoker (Wasikowska) has a severe case of the sads after her Dad (Mulroney), with whom she was very close, dies suddenly. We know they were close because he bought her the same pair of shoes every year for her birthday and he taught her to shoot things with his sniper rifle, which is all a bit weird. Then estranged uncle Charles (Goode), whose existence she was unaware of until now, appears at Pop’s funeral and starts to get a bit too familiar with mother Evelyn (Kidman). Also weird. Finally, India enjoys super-hyper-efficient senses, which mean sounds are really loud and sights really sharp and that she develops a creepy crush on her smartly turned-out but clearly mental uncle . Now that’s weird. Wow everything is just so weird! THIS FILM IS INCREDIBLE BECAUSE WEIRD.
The whole thing is the cinematic equivalent of a Tumblr gifset. ‘Look! Moving pictures! Pretty moving pictures IN MY EYES! THIS IS GREAT! Also, as an afterthought, here are some words, because words are super awesome. But who cares if the words make sense because LOOK PICTURES AND THEY’RE MOVING.’ In the kind of career move that induces the classic ‘what, him?!’ double take, Wentworth Miller of Prison Break fame wrote the incredibly hokey script. It is a script in so much as it contains words, but there is little else to report. It also contains some of the most contrived and heavy-handed lines you’ve heard in years. “This wine has not yet matured, not long before it’s full-bodied” is (roughly) what Goode says to Evelyn in one scene, fully aware that India is listening from the next room. Yes very good Wentworth, but we’ve all seen Sideways; also, you could have had Arnold Schwarzenegger saying that line whilst juggling puppies on a tricycle and it would’ve been more subtle and poignant.
It is gorgeous though; I really can’t state that enough. Chan-Wook Park is a masterful director, and Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography ensures every frame is beautifully captured with incredible attention to detail. The sound design is fantastic too, with every noise perfectly placed at just the right time to unsettle. The only thing is, there’s nothing to be unsettled about. Moments of supposed tension are broken with overwrought visual metaphors and cheap editing tricks. There’s just nothing here to care about or be creeped out by (apart form how much Dermot Mulroney still looks like Robert Downey Jr.) It’s the ultimate sin of style over substance, like if Wes Anderson started to make bad horror movies. Only much more boring than that sounds.
I really wanted to like Stoker. I love Chan-Wook Park; Oldboy is a bonafide classic, and soon to be ruined forever in the grand Hollywood tradition of remaking and defiling, which is a shame. There are those who will love Stoker and – like I was for the first forty minutes or so – be caught up in its distractingly gorgeous visuals; seducing you like the little tart that it is. Ultimately though, it has no heft and no message. Those looking for substance might as well go and watch Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters this week, although it won’t be anywhere near as pretty. Disappointing.