(2013, US, d. Park Chan-wook)
I’ve been crazy about this movie ever since it was first announced Chan-wook would be making his first foray into Hollywood storytelling. Chan-wook, in my opinion, is one of the premier storytellers in the film industry, no matter the language of origin. His ability to tell B-stories and provide them shots of originality, adrenaline, and emotion is unparalleled My only fear was that pretty soon, everyone would be on the Park Chan-wook bandwagon that I had been for so long.
Well, at least I know that won’t happen for awhile.
The biggest problem with Stoker is that it feels pointless. With such a rich, Hitchcockian premise, there were so many directions this movie could have effectively traveled, but this is not one of them. It almost feels as if Chan-wook is collapsing under the pressure of having to create an incredible, English-language debut film. Instead of focusing on his storytelling talents, Chan-wook seems more intent on creating endless tones of melancholy and characters that never feel like they’re doing anything but putting on a sour face and hiding a deep, dark secret.
Stoker begins during the funeral of a man we’re told is the father of high-schooler India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska). The last name is obviously derived from that of Bram Stoker, the novelist of Dracula. However, Stoker isn’t about vampires. Though there probably would be more exciting things to watch on the screen had there been a few of those in the movie. But back to the story.
After the funeral, India is introduced to someone she’s never met. She’s told this is her father’s brother: Charlie (played subtly by a very creepy Matthew Goode). As Uncle Charlie shows no plans of leaving the Stoker house anytime soon, India begins to discover more and more about Charlie’s past and current intentions, none of which bode well for the future of the family…and the safety of the townsfolk.
Stoker spends a lot of time showering in the mood of its images. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung masterfully crafts images of emotion, tone, and symbolism, but as any good film can show, it takes masterful editing – both by the editor and every storyteller along the way – to piece those images into something greater than the sum of its parts. Stoker really never flies above that sum. It’s perfectly content to be what it is – refusing to ask the deeper questions about character and motivation.
Debut-writer Wentworth Miller (TV folk will remember him as the lead star of Fox’s Prison Break) crafts a tale very similar to that of Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. And while there are many signs that point to Miller’s potential as a writer, this film will ever only be a minor debut of his.
Nicole Kidman, Jacki Weaver, and Dermot Mulroney (in the smallest of roles) all try their best, but again, because of the film’s poor direction, everyone (including the usually better Wasikowska and Goode) come off as caricatures.
Finally, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that I’ve seen this film before. Somewhere. And then I realized: these are the films I used to make when I was in early high school, before I knew what I was doing and when I thought gruesome deaths and slow introductions to characters who had sadistic pleasure with intense violence were the most interesting things to make a movie about.
Trust me. It’s not easy being this honest, especially since Chan-wook has always been the filmmaker I’ve aspired to become like. I can’t fault the guy for making a mistake. I just hope he learns from it and moves on. The world can only handle a movie like this once in a blue moon.
Wait…that’s a werewolf reference. Whatever.