Stoker would make for one of the best films of 2013, provided you don’t like to ask any kind of questions about character development or are easily distracted by a non-linear flow of thought. Chan-Wook Park’s Stoker has a lot of potential, but in the end, it rather falls short.
PPLA first mentioned the film in our top picks to watch from Sundance when in debuted last month. Now the film is opening theatrically nationwide and we wanted to give you the full rundown before you purchase your tickets!
The film stars India, played by Mia Wasikowska. She is incredibly close to her father; a relationship that is almost entirely displayed by going on hunting expeditions, until his premature death in an accident. At the funeral, she is introduced to her uncle Charlie, played by Matthew Goode. After he makes a few passes at her mother, played by Nicole Kidman, he makes it very well known that he has a more than natural interest in his niece, India. Both Charlie and India share what can only be described as hypersensitive awareness as nearly all of their senses are at super-human levels, and through this bond, they continue in a very unusual and somewhat off-putting relationship.
Insinuating an incestuous relationship is actually not the most jarring scene that Stoker has dedicated to film. If anything else, due to the way that the characters develop, the attraction and chemistry between Charlie and India is quite magnetic. It is the motivations for each of the characters that are the irritatingly confusing part. Charlie has been writing letters to India almost every day since she was born, as well as a new pair of shoes each year on her birthday. And yet, it is made known that he has been away since before she was even born; making his obsessive behaviors without any motivation. As India makes her gradual spiraling development, there doesn’t seem to be any real drive or rationale behind her continuing behavior other than plot convenience.
On a more personal note, the most frustrating thing about this film isn’t even the characters being obvious instruments in a story rather than the driving force behind it, but rather that the story itself is rather one-dimensional and intentionally predictable. The opening scenes of the movie are overtly foreshadowing the events of the rest of the film; letting the audience gain a sense of hyper-awareness as the scenes progress. From there, the movie likes to take a few steps forward and then a step backwards as a majority of the film is told through a flashback within a flashback, reaching as many as four tiers worth of recollections at times. It could be that the director was attempting to allow the audience to know the outcome so that they could be more aware of the smaller events going on, and therefore appreciate the subtleties. But for most viewers, this technique takes any of the suspense out of the movie and makes any large twists emotionless and ineffectual.
Despite glaring issues with the story structure and character development, Stoker does have a lot going for it. The acting is completely superb; particularly Goode playing what could easily be the role of a lifetime as the quiet yet menacing Uncle Charlie. The soundtrack is never out of place, and the settings feel quite natural and are actually good to look at, despite being primarily centered on the family estate. Stoker was a very promising film with a very good idea. More than likely, it will cause arguments between members of the audience as people try to decide whether the structure of the story was beneficial or detrimental, whether the acting was brooding yet welcoming or just completely awful, and whether or not the troubling family dynamic was so off-putting that it made the film more difficult to watch. The story is one-dimensional and simplistic, but there are many complexities that make it enjoyable. There are actually a few scenes that are deeply troubling and remarkably well shot, but they are so quickly glossed over that the audience isn’t given a chance to truly appreciate them.
This is a far cry from the worst of 2013, but the level of disappointment from the cinematography and character development is enough to warrant a negative review. Two stars out of four.
Watch the trailer here.