After India Stoker’s father dies in a horrific car crash on her eighteenth birth her hitherto unknown and enigmatic uncle Charlie moves in with her and her grieving mother. Charlie takes an interest in India that verges on obsessive but the more she finds out about his past the more she reveals about herself.
It’s quite remarkable that, within the same month, two of South Korea’s most prominent and cutting edge directors have released their US debuts, even more so that the features could be so different in content and presentation.
Kim Jee-Woon, director of such films as A Tale Of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life and I Saw The Devil, barrelled on to the scene with the old-school-action-centric The Last Stand, which, as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to leading man status, was, predictably, fun, empty-headed, ridiculous yet very stylish (read the review). By comparison, Park Chan-Wook, the director of cult favourites Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and Thirst went completely for the other end of the spectrum with his quietly introspective outing, Stoker.
Indeed, if one were so inclined, it might be suggested that Stoker is about as (forgive the term) ‘arty’ as a film can get these days and still remain mainstream enough to be presented at the average multiplex. One could also be forgiven for, on initial inspection, classifying it as pretentious or perhaps the very definition of style over content; the random jumps in chronology, extremely sparse narrative, an endless predilection for exploring the senses of sound and touch, artistically constructed but seemingly pointless shots and a general leaning toward quietness all markers for a potentially infuriating experience if, like so many films of this ilk, it had remained open ended or ‘cerebrally’ vague.
But is doesn’t, Stoker is very definitely about something specific; its cleverness being that its entire point is not fully revealed until the very last scene. To openly state what that might be here would be a disservice to both you the reader and the film.
To be sure, the story IS sparse and the care of imagery and sound is so considered that it CAN be bracketed into the description of ‘arty’, but neither is of a detrimental nature, they simply beget each other; the simplicity of the story may have been easily relayed in a twenty minute short but the intensity of direction here squeezes out every last drop of meaning and emotion without an over-reliance on dialogue. I dare say that the film could have worked just as well without any dialogue at all.
Nicole Kidman puts in a typically snobbish but well-cast and well-played performance as the grieving widow, but this film belongs to Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode as the darkly oddball niece and uncle, both chilling yet excellent performances by anyone’s standard.
Fans of Park Chan-Wook shouldn’t be disappointed, Stoker is actually superior to much of his Korean work, but it can’t be recommended to everyone; so slow-boiling is it that some may be understandably put off, even with a relatively brief ninety-five minute running time, but the patient cinema fan and those moved by beautiful and considered visuals will be rewarded dividends by the closing credits.
B grade – for originality
B+ grade – for story
A grade – for direction
Overall grade – A-