Visual flare overtakes a strong structure in this breathtaking thriller from Chan-wook Park and Wentworth Miller. In comes together in unexpected ways, delivering a film that is stunning to look at yet underdeveloped and rather spotty to evaluate. It feels like half a film, sometimes not even that much, and yet the film’s clear assets are almost more than enough to make up for the faltering storyline.
I wasn’t too keen on seeing the film, to be honest. I had preconceived notions of what this film was going to be about based on the odd promotional campaign, and the critical reception didn’t help convince me I was wrong. It looked like a glossed over attempt at creating cheap thrills with a supernatural take on the Hitchcock thriller. In some ways, it is some of those things and yet it isn’t. Despite being underdeveloped, nothing about this film is cheap. The thrills are genuine mostly because they come with a sense of normalcy. As the film develops and the true intentions are made clear, the crazy elements carry with them a feeling of natural calm, which helps create a real sense of tension and a haunting sustainability.
|'Stoker' stays with you...|
The basic premise follows the events that happen after the death of Richard Stoker. At the funeral, Richard’s daughter India notices a strange figure looming overhead, and soon she is introduced to him. He is Charlie, her Uncle. India’s mother, Evelyn, was barely aware of Charlie herself, but is instantly smitten with him. He is charming and almost immediately moves into their home and begins to insert himself into their lives. Despite obvious warnings to his presence, Evelyn doesn’t want to let him go. Then people start disappearing. India is dubious, but her sullen demeanor and hostile school life lead her to begin to embrace her darker side, which is aided by the help of her mysterious Uncle.
‘Stoker’, for me, feels very much like a Brian De Palma film. It borrows a lot from other films, other directors and their signature styles, and melds them into one fluid movement. Chan-wook Park single handedly saves Miller’s fractured script by giving it a tremendous amount of electricity. The basics of Miller’s script are great and hold promise, but the skeletal handling of the characters and their backstories cause the film itself to feel underwhelming. There is hinting towards things, instinctual things, that send charges of promise but they are never truly capitalized on. Nicole Kidman is handed a thankless part, despite a killer scene or two, and Mia Wasikowska has a truly intriguing character to play and yet by the film’s end we still feel as though we know nothing about her.
|Stare into the eyes of a true star...|
But then there is Matthew Goode. He is brilliant here as the charmingly seductive Charles Stoker. He looms over every scene with this great sense of presence and awareness, showing such depth perception in every tiny detail. He’s charming, chilling, sexy and confident, but the car scene with Dermot Mulroney is such a magnificent example of internalizing honest emotions and creating a fragility that is needed to sell his character as a whole.
With sensational production values (that cinematography is to die for) and a chilling atmosphere thanks to Park’s attention to detail, ‘Stoker’ rises above being a poor man’s ‘Carrie’ and becomes a respectable horror film complete with memorable moments (that shower scene should become infamous) and a sharp performance by a rising star.
I give this a B+. Its Oscar chances are nothing, which is a shame because it deserves attention in some key areas, like Cinematography, Score and a Supporting Actor nomination for Goode. Goode was more than good, he was great, but sadly Oscar won’t look his way this year.