Director: Chan-wook Park
Screenplay: Wentworth Miller, Erin Cressida Wilson (contributing writer)
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
Running Time: 99 minutes
Stoker will forever be known as Chan-wook Park’s first English language feature film, and the comparisons to his Vengeance trilogy are hard to avoid. However, it is best to go into his latest film with an open mind. Stoker is strong enough to stand on its own, comparisons be damned.
The film begins with a funeral for Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney), a wealthy man who passed away in a car accident on his daughter India’s (Mia Wasikowska) 18th birthday. She remains in the care of her estranged mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), but they are soon joined by Richard’s long-lost brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode). Right off the bat it seems that something is amiss with Charlie. Goode plays him to smarmy perfection as he weasels his way into the household. Evelyn falls for his charms rather quickly; India, not so much.
India is a complex girl. She’s quiet and often gets picked on at school, but she’s also not afraid to stand up for herself. The loss of her father has clearly been quite damaging, and Charlie’s insistence on building a friendship with her is not exactly welcomed. Yet as she learns more about her seemingly-vagrant uncle, she begins to discover things about herself that she perhaps didn’t know before.
As such, Stoker is something of a “coming of age” tale. However, it’s unlike any such tale you have seen before. After all, this is a Chan-wook Park film with a screenplay written by Prison Break star, Wentworth Miller. Stoker is completely unnerving during its entire running time, and it seems determined to leave its audiences feeling as uncomfortable as possible. Violence is kept to a minimum, but Park plays with a number of social taboos, all using a distinct visual style that only he can offer. His use of color and flawless transition shots are a thing of beauty, even if at times they do distract from the film itself.
The cast here is terrific, led by the very talented Mia Wasikowska. Best known for playing Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Wasikowska thrives in this much, much darker role. It’s also great to see Nicole Kidman deliver another strong performance in her limited screen time, but perhaps most surprising is Matthew Goode. He has one of those faces where he feels instantly familiar, but beyond his pretty face is a disturbing interior that comes out more and more throughout the film. While Wasikowska is the star, Goode is the one who keeps the wheels turning.
Stoker is arguably Chan-wook Park’s most accessible work, but it’s still not for everyone (even notable amongst critics, given its 66% Rotten Tomatoes average). For those willing to brave the incommodious atmosphere, this is a rare great film released during the first quarter of the year. Park has transferred his talent masterfully to Hollywood, and I can’t wait to see where he goes next.