FlixChatter Review: Stoker

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Though this film was not on my radar until a few months ago, I was quite intrigued when I first saw the trailer. If you haven’t seen this yet though, I’d say stay away from the latest trailer.

As you’ve perhaps read my Asian directors post, this is Chan-Wook Park‘s English language debut. It’s not only a first for Park, this is also Prison Break‘s Wentworth Miller’s debut screenplay. I’d say he’s quite a talented writer. The film centers on India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), who’s mourning the sudden death of her father. As if that is not a major life-changing event for the reclusive teen, her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) who she never knew existed now comes to live with her and her unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Right of the bat we know there is something strangely peculiar about Charlie and India thinks so too, right from the moment she noticed him standing on a hill at her dad’s funeral. The Stokers certainly gives a whole new meaning to dysfunctional family, one that’d make your blood turns cold.

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Much to India’s chagrin, Evelyn seems to be fascinated by her long-lost brother-in-law who claims he’s been traveling all over the world. India is naturally suspicious of Charlie, and he gives every reason for her to be with his creepy mannerism and frequent glances towards her. Initially, she tries to ignore his unhealthy attention, but Charlie is quite relentless. Despite the warning of one family member, Evelyn doesn’t mind her brother in-law staying with them and let’s just say Charlie intends to keep it that way, and would stop at nothing to keep his secret safe. I’m going to stop giving you the synopsis as the less you know about the plot the better. Not that Park is too concerned about plot twists however, I feel that he’s more interested in building a certain state of mind for the audience as they watch things unfold.

To say this movie is unsettling would be a giant understatement. The sinister atmosphere practically ricochet off the high ceilings of the secluded woodsy estate where the Stokers live. The tension intensifies every time Charlie appears and Park is able to establish suspense with minimal frills. Even the seemingly ordinary event such as two people playing the piano or having dinner is so eerie and you’re at the edge of your seat waiting just what’s going to happen. Even the humorous parts are not without tension, such as the part when the Ray-Ban-wearing Charlie stalks India on her way home from work in his black convertible whilst the girls on her school bus are giggling and fawning over him.

A few reviewers say this film is not as bloody as Park’s other films and I’m certainly glad for that most of the violence happen off screen. That’s not to say there are no brutal scenes, it’s certainly not in short supply for my taste, but it’s not so gory that it makes my stomach churn. What really strikes me about Park’s direction is his creative camera angles and how he frames the scene. It’s truly a gorgeous film and beautifully-shot by Park’s longtime-collaborator Chung-hoon Chung, both clearly have such keen eye for detail that enhance the mysterious ambiance of the film. There are also some interesting metaphors used here, such as the choice of Charlie’s car, a Jaguar, seems to signify that he’s a predator on the lookout for his next prey.

Clint Mansel‘s foreboding score also works very well here, I quite enjoy the classically-tinged music used throughout. The music certainly enhances the mood, but it also plays a role in the story. There is one memorable scene where Charlie and India playing piano together that perfectly captures the disturbing nature of their relationship.

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The three main actors did an excellent job, particularly Wasikowska who manages to be convincing as a 17-year-old despite being five years older than her character. The talented Australian has this otherworldly presence that is perfect for the role and she has proven to be a capable leading lady. Goode is so perfectly creepy as Charlie, his preppy good looks makes him all the more menacing. I read that Colin Firth had been cast in the role but dropped out, I actually think Goode’s youthfulness is perhaps more suitable for the role than Firth, plus he resembles Dermot Mulroney who plays Mia’s late father Richard, who appears only in flashbacks. Kidman’s icy demeanor is put to good use in depicting a selfish and detached mother. I like the International flavor of the film. The director and cinematographer are Korean, the composer, screenwriter and lead actor are from the UK and the two main actresses are Australian.

Being that this is my first Chan-wook Park’s film I saw, I’d say I’m quite impressed with his direction and style. I do think that the filmmaker perhaps place aesthetics above narrative that it felt like the film’s on the brink of style-over-substance. It’s also a cold film that appeals more for the brain but little for the heart as all the characters are impossible to root for. That said, Stoker definitely works as a cerebral, atmospheric psychological thriller. Thriller fans looking for a spooky and suspenseful roller-coaster ride should not be disappointed.


4 out of 5 reels

What are your thoughts on this film? I’d love to hear it!

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63 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Stoker

  1. I saw it today, and while i this is not the first movie i’ve seen from Park i am in complete agreement with you. The atmosphere was great in this one, and i also have newfound respect for Wasikowska after seeing it. And Kidman delivered the monolgoue near the end perfectly.

    • Glad to hear you’ve seen it, I know you’ve been anticipating this for a while. Yes it’s very atmospheric isn’t it. Wasikowska’s always been impressive from the first time I saw her, I think it was Jane Eyre. Yeah, Kidman’s monologue was quite chilling indeed.

      • watching too much British comedy to be precised ;)
        just finished Spaced, A fantastic fear of everything and right now I am on Monty Python raly…soon How Not To Live my Life is waiting to be watched

  2. I was already really excited to see this and now with your review, that desire has gone up even further. This has been a pretty bad year so far at the movies. I’m looking forward to seeing something really good. Very high hopes for this one. Great review!

    • Yeah, at times the scenes seem overly-stylized. But you’re right, the story is still thought-provoking enough to make it an intriguing thriller.

  3. Aaah another great review for Stoker :) most of the reviews I’ve read have been mixed or negative. This is one of my most anticipated films from last year actually before it got delayed, can’t wait to see it too! Btw…you haven’t watched Oldboy then, Ruth? I love that film and I think you would love it too :)

    • I could see why people dislike this one, I for one am not in love with this film but I appreciate the visual style and quirky dynamics. Some might call it weird and that wouldn’t be inaccurate, I think bizarre is a more appropriate term. I don’t really have any interest in seeing Oldboy, like I said, I think this is as violent as I could handle. I heard Park’s previous films are far gorier.

    • Ahah yes, weird movie, though I think it’s on purpose. I see it as more quirky/bizarre, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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  5. I’ve been debating seeing this for awhile.. the trailer was pretty creepy so I didn’t know if I could take a whole film like that. If there’s not too much gore then that’s a good thing anyway. I’ll probably go see it this weekend. It’s interested me from the first time I heard about it, so I should probably go. I just hope I won’t get too creeped out.

    • I’m so with you. I thought the trailer was sooo creepy and I was actually a bit apprehensive about seeing it. Fortunately it’s not as gory as his previous films (at least based on what I read as I don’t think I could handle them). Most of the violence happen off-screen. It is very creepy and spooky, I don’t know what your tolerance level to psycho thrillers but I’d think if I could handle it, anyone could, ahah. This film is quite beautiful to look at though and well-acted as well so there are plenty to appreciate.

      • That’s good to hear. My limit is Black Swan. If anything is creepier than that I don’t think I could take it. Black Swan had me freaked out for about a week :)

        • Ahah, yeah Black Swan is VERY creepy indeed. I’d say Stoker is perhaps on par with that, perhaps even less intense than that. I don’t think I could handle anything than that either, I don’t like having nightmares!!

  6. Awesome review! I can’t wait to see it, I like all of the actors involved and Park’s Thirst is one of my all time favorite films, I love his style.

    • All the actors are excellent, Sati. I’ve been a fan of Goode in a while, glad to see him in a prominent role. He’s sooo beautiful and sooo creepy. If you like Park’s style then this is definitely right up your alley.

  7. I was bumped that I couldn’t make it to the screening but thankfully it’s already announced for a Blu-ray release. So I’ll give it a rent then.

    I’m curious on which film Park will do next, I’m hoping it’s that western considering how well Django Unchained has perform at the box office.

    • Yeah I really think you’d have enjoyed this one Ted. I’m curious to see what he’ll tackle next though if it’s his traditional super violent stuff, I’ll stay away, ahah.

  8. Hi, Ruth and company:

    ‘Stoker’ sounds like an extremely creepy extension of Hitchcock’s ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ with Joseph Cotten (another “Uncle Charlie” with a disturbing past) taken to an entirely new and unsettling level.

    Does any teenage girl really need 16 pairs of saddle shoes? That itself piques my interest! :D

    • I really want to see Shadow of a Doubt, Joseph Cotten has an innocent-looking face so that’d be interesting to see him as a creepy uncle, ahah. The saddle shoes are quite intriguing, when you get to see it, you’ll see how she accumulates so many of the same shoes. It’s an interesting shot isn’t it? There are plenty of that in this film!

      • Hi, Ruth:

        Woohoo! I have my Avatar back!!! Thanks very much!

        The saddle shoes shot has a personal, creepy, eavesdropping Polanski/Scorsese look and feel to it. A small taste of stranger things to come. ;-)

        Joseph Cotton has always had a poker face. Never revealing what’s going on behind his eyes until the proper moment. It’s writ large and is a major part of ‘Shadow of a Doubt’. I’m sure you’ll like it.

        • Yeah, that’s a GREAT avatar, glad to see it back, too!

          I’ll definitely look for Shadow of a Doubt, hope it’s available on Netflix Streaming or Amazon on Demand. Perhaps that’s one you’d kindly review for me and fellow FC readers since you’ve done such an excellent job on ‘In Which We Serve’ over at Michael’s side? [hint, hint]

    • Oh I got your email on Walter Matthaw. Did you not receive my reply? Drats, it might’ve gotten lost in oblivion or maybe it’s still in my draft folder! I’m actually planning to post that later this week.

      So does that mean you’ll give me a review of Shadow of a Doubt then? ;)

    • Sounds good Mark! I know you don’t watch trailers, but make sure you stay away from the latest one. The less you see about this film the better the experience.

  9. Good review Ruth. I guess I will be getting around to seeing this. I have only seen a few clips thus far but the one thing I sense is the coldness. Which is not always an entirely bad thing.

    • It is a very cold movie, I feel like I could see my breath as I’m watching it, ahah. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I mean a movie full of psychopaths is not exactly heart-warming. However, it’s not the type of film I gravitate towards.

  10. ooh. an intriguing psychological thriller! great review Ruth. You make me more interested in seeing this one. Good to know that it is a bit more creepy yet not so bloody. Kinda takes it back to the old days of dark thrillers that were better than most that come out nowadays.

    • If you like psycho thrillers, this is your movie T. It’s just brimming with tension from start to finish, but I for one am glad the violence happens mostly off-screen. I know I don’t think I could handle Oldboy.

  11. Oh cool, I didn’t know Clint Mansell did the score to this. Love his work. Yeah, I’m going to have to catch this before it leaves the theater, especially since I am a big fan of Park’s Vengeance trilogy.

  12. This is your first Chan-wook Park film? Wow… not a bad start though I would definitely recommending watching his Vengeance trilogy of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance since I feel it’s his most definitive work so far. Then go to Thirst, JSA: Joint Security Area, his segment “Cut” from Three… Extremes, and I’m a Cyborg but That’s OK. They all have something to offer.

    • Thanks for the suggestions, but I’m not into violent films so I’ll skip the Vengeance trilogy. I might give the Cyborg one a try as that looks pretty amusing.

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  14. I watched this movie on the way back from Jakarta To Minneapolis. Out of boredom sitting on the plane, I flipped through the channel on my seat, and picked this movie. And, I have to say I am impress.. I love it.. The plot was interesting, and the character was deep. And yes, this is very rare coming from my mouth about “pretty” boys, but Matthew Goode is as “Goode as it gets” .. ;)

    • Hi Von, pa kabar? We need to get together one of these days, I’ll email you soon. Hey, glad you chose this one on the plane, I was quite impressed too, fortunately it’s not as gory as this Park’s other films. YES, Goode was as ‘goode’ as it gets, nice one! The fact that he’s sooo pretty makes his character even creepier.

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