Sydney Film Festival – Stoker review

Stoker

By Simon Miraudo
June 10, 2013

Stoker. Finally, a family name that can be worn as proudly as Bates, Lecter, Torrance, and Lohan. An odd bunch, they are. Even the non-murderers. Park Chan-wook‘s English-language debut introduces us to this curious clan, and hopefully it will, in turn, introduce the acclaimed Korean director to those who have remained oblivious to his talents thus far. It’s not a patch on what’s come before in his storied career, such as Joint Security Area, which was once the highest grossing film in South Korean history, as well as the Vengeance trilogy, best known for middle entry Oldboy. It is, however, a fantastic showcase for his distinctive visual style and fondness for unconventional anti-heroes.

And they don’t come quite as unconventional or anti-heroic as India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), the dowdy daughter of Richard (Dermot Mulroney) and Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Richard dies in a freak car accident on India’s 18th birthday, leaving her alone with the emotionally-detached Evelyn in their giant, chilly, immaculately set-decorated estate. The formerly unheard of Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) turns up at the funeral, and, after enchanting Evelyn – by looking, well, like Matthew Goode – is invited to move in. A warning from Aunt Gwendolyn (Jacki Weaver) falls on deaf ears. And then the old dear goes missing. This is not a coincidence.

Stoker

Scripted – shockingly – by Wentworth Miller (the star of Prison Break), Stoker successfully defies expectations at most turns. A twisted little bildungsroman, we see the displaced India come to understand her place within her previously alien family by connecting with her sociopathic uncle. So, this is why her father used to take her hunting, warning that “sometimes you need to do something bad to stop you from doing something worse.” With daddy gone, and a very bad influence having taken her place, India is free to explore all those weird, icky feelings that have long been rumbling deep inside. And not just the typical ones felt by a blooming teenager, but the violent, blood-thirsty ones too (though they might indeed be getting all tangled up, especially as the onset of her sexuality coincides with the discovery of her first corpse.)

Stoker never quite comes together as a truly terrifying horror flick, compelling murder mystery, or even a well-rounded portrait of its title character, despite an assured, on-point performance from Wasikowska. Its real value is as a showreel for Park. His intricately tailored actors serve as playthings in that dollhouse they reside in. India Stoker, in particular, looks as if she’s been dressed in an outfit belonging to a life-size colonial dolly. The scene transitions inspire more gasps than any of the on-screen killings, and the colour palette is more hypnotic and intense than even Kidman’s icy stare. I spent a year writing about Park’s Vengeance trilogy for my Honours thesis, and still carry with me to this day the memorable moments that I watched over and over. Stoker has moments that I’ll want to revisit too. Just not as many.

3.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Stoker played the Sydney Film Festival. It arrives in Australian cinemas August 29, 2013.

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