Starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, David Alford, Matthew Goode, Peg Allen, Lauren E. Roman, Phyllis Somerville, Harmony Korine, Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich, Dominick ‘Dino’ Howard, Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney
Directed by Park Chan-Wook
Expectations: High. Really looking forward to this despite knowing almost nothing about it.
Sometimes waiting to see a movie makes for a better experience. If I had seen Stoker when it was released in theaters, I would have liked it but I would have been missing a key component to understanding it. Fortuitously and completely unbeknownst to me, Stoker is something of a re-imagined Shadow of a Doubt, so it was quite interesting to see this one after finally seeing that film for the first time just a couple of weeks ago.
The initial premise of Stoker is similar to that of the classic Hitchcock film, but it kind of flips everything on its head. Stoker begins with the funeral of Richard Stoker, father to India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) and husband to Evelyn Stoker (Nicole Kidman). Out of the blue, Richard’s long-lost brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) returns from traveling Europe and stays with the girls to help them in their time of mourning. India has no idea that she even had an uncle, so the event is one that raises her suspicions and interest in the mysterious and fetching Uncle Charlie.
This is a straightforward description of the events, but it doesn’t do any favors to actually describe the film. These and other things happen during Stoker, but the plot points themselves are not the draw here. Especially after seeing Shadow of a Doubt, the thriller content of Stoker is far less engaging and satisfying. But that’s OK, because (at least for me) the main draw in Stoker is the style with which everything is designed and shot. There’s definitely something of a style over substance disconnect here, but the style ultimately defines the film and allows it to become much more than a simple homage or retelling of Shadow of a Doubt.
There is a surreal quality to the visuals in Stoker, be it defined, carefully controlled color palettes, or oversized chairs designed to make India appear small and childlike in certain scenes. This element is perhaps my favorite of the film’s stylistic traits, as it keeps you off-guard and guessing. There was honestly a point where I felt it could’ve jumped off into the supernatural deep-end, a testament to the off-kilter world of Stoker and how it doesn’t fully reveal itself until well into the film.
But as interesting as the visuals were — there’s a transitional shot of Nicole Kidman’s hair being brushed that is exquisite — the script and the mysteries it eventually reveals didn’t do a lot for me. There are many threads in play throughout the film, but where they lead feels much too juvenile and unearned. I’m unsure exactly what the point of it all is, and this hurts the overall film quite a bit. The more I think about it, the more I feel like it was a mistake to see Shadow of a Doubt first. The two films take a similar premise in entirely different directions, but while I was thoroughly engaged in the turns of the Hitchcock film, I was only under the spell of Stoker for the first two-thirds of the film. The last act, while interesting in its own way, was largely a disappointment to me, failing to deliver a climax or an ending that satisfied me. Having the brilliance of Shadow of a Doubt firmly present in my mind only made Stoker seem even less in comparison. By the film’s end, Stoker feels like Hitchcock by way of Tarantino, which is something I never expected or desired.
As an English language debut, Park Chan-Wook has created a great example of his visual talents with Stoker, but I wish the script were stronger so that the entire film was impressive instead of just the build-up. Even still, it’s worth watching for fans of thrillers and Shadow of a Doubt, if only for the eventual dissection that will occur after the credits roll.