Director: Chan-wook Park
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
Run Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
"To become adult is to become free."
So begins Stoker, the first English language film from acclaimed South Korean director Chan-wook Park. What follows is a winding tale of intrigue, lust, murder, lust, betrayal, and lust set to the tune of the coming of age of India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), a girl who can hear and see things beyond the abilities of your feeble eyes and ears.
On her 18th birthday, India's life is turned upside down when her father dies in a mysterious accident and her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), a man she never even knew existed has come to stay with her and her mother (Nicole Kidman). Mrs. Stoker doesn't seem to be too cut up about her husband's death, not with his sibling around to comfort her.
What a sweet body - I mean - brother.
The Hamlet parallels don't stop there as the film dives more or less immediately into more incestuous undertones than your average episode of Arrested Development. As India begins to suspect foul play, Charlie's attentions turn to her and their two journeys intertwine in a symphony of violence and sensuality, beginning with the porniest piano duet in human history.
And possibly monkey history.
For you see, Charlie isn't your typical uncle. If somebody threaten's India's well-being, they're not going to be well for much longer.
There's also a lot of business with India dealing with teenage hoodlums at her high school and investigating family secrets, but Stoker is a film that's much more impressed with its atmosphere than the story it's telling, something that it and I have in common. A modern thriller mystery incest romance dressed up in Victorian trappings, Stoker is one of the (if not the) most aesthetically complex films of 2013.
This is one of those films that allows me to use terms like symbolism and mise-en-scène without a trace of irony, for every single element of the film works together to create a beautiful and singularly creepy world.
The camera dances an intricate ballet of light and shadow one image fading into the next with grace, the infinitely complex sound design explores the world of a girl who can hear even the tiniest crack of an egg, the editing joins the game to provide a pulsing, freewheeling rhythm, and the art design reigns supreme, full of rich, dark colors, and symbols out the wazoo that are there in spades for those who wish to analyze them but aren't so obvious as to be distracting.
You see shears, I see a phallus. The life of a film major.
Phallic and Yonic imagery abound throughout, capturing the central theme of burgeoning sexuality and coming of age and compounding it with the darker tang of bodily violence.
You thought slasher movies had the monopoly on "sex = death" philosophy? You're dead wrong. Stoker has sharp penetrative weapons, rhythmic pounding violence, unbelting preceding murder, womb imagery to represent rebirth, and a bloody act that marks India's emergence into womanhood (a metaphor for getting her period).
I think I'm getting my point across.
It's quite a shame the plot isn't really that great.
Because that's what we're here for, isn't it?
The film drags for quite a bit in its middle half and never really achieves a sense of closure, largely because it never felt like it ever truly opened in the first place. The film is so enchanted by its own decadence that it falls prey to the arthouse mentality of presenting a film as a sequence of beautiful paintings rather than a coherent story.
It's no surprise Stoker alienated audiences and failed to be the smash hit it so easily could have been if the dialogue or events matched the intelligence and fervor of the film's more artistic elements. This disparity largely seems to be due to the veteran film director Chan-wook Park bringing his masterful film aesthetic to the rather green and clumsy first screenplay of Prison Break's Wentworth Miller.
Stoker is a visual treat for the critics and the filmmakers, but a drowsy bore for the rest.
You win some, you lose some.
You spin around on some.
Also, a shout-out for Sergio for correctly identifying a hunting cooler. He rocks.
TL;DR: Stoker has a stunningly beautiful aesthetic in service of a bum narrative with just enough intrigue to keep the film afloat.
Word Count: 756