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.
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.
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!