Nicole Kidman & Matthew Goode Burn Slowly in Chan-wook Park’s ‘Stoker': A Review
Stoker is a slow-burning Hitchockian-style piece of filmmaking that hits more than it misses. With Stoker, acclaimed Korean director Chan-wook Park, of Oldboy fame, makes his English language debut for American audiences. The film, which was one of the top screenplays in Hollywood yet to be made was originally to have bigger names until budget concerns led to the cast that ultimately came with the film. The film stars Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode with Mia Wasikowska.
Kidman’s Evelyn plays mother to India (Wasikowska), a troubled teenager who can’t fit in in high school and has never connected with her Mom. Once India’s Dad passes away, this dynamic is forced to come to light as mother and daughter attempt to reconnect with little success. Enter India’s Uncle Charles, who has a disconnected family history at best. What unravels is a trail of murder and intrigue – who did what, who trusts who and who falls for who. It’s interesting stuff.
The film takes a while to get moving. It’s a very silent piece of filmmaking with mostly reserved, though solid, performances (particular from Kidman). Sounds go from small to big; footsteps and piano chords carry extra weight. Park takes his time unveiling the story and the evil that may or may not lurk within the characters. Park is a highly stylized director and he uses the color yellow to special effect in the film. Additionally, several shots place the camera in a unique position giving worthy tension to the piece. The film does falter in that it does feel soulless at times. From the performances to the painstaking pacing, particularly early on, this is a cold, didactic work.
Still, the “big” finish is fun stuff and Park shows he can do more than mayhem. He’s obviously drawn to dark characters and this film is no exception. It should please fans of his and Hitchcock in particular. I don’t see the film doing particularly well at the domestic box office though, so it does leave in doubt Park’s standing as a director working in Western cinema. Kind of curious that his first attempt is with a cast of foreigners – stars on some level though they may be – in what amounts to an Independent film. However, in the end, Stoker stokes the fire to Park’s career. He has style and versatility, akin to David Fincher, perhaps. Where it goes from here I don’t know, but I am eagerly on board to follow.