Stoker (2013): Review

stoker-poster-us

Director: Park Chan-Wook
Writer: Wentworth Miller
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
7.5/10

“Stoker”, directed by the mastermind behind “Oldboy” and “Thirst,” generated plenty of buzz before its early March release for a number of reasons – great trailer, great cast, great crew. I was fortunate enough to see it at a pre-screening, and the experience was definitely worth the wait in line.

The film tells the dark, twisted story of the Stoker family. After India’s (Wasikowska) father dies, her uncle Charlie (Goode) comes to stay with her mother Evie (Kidman). His appearance is surrounded by strange and mysterious events, which build up to the ending that may not be exactly shocking but is certainly chilling enough. India, as Charlie brings her into his world, begins to learn what it means to be an adult (something revealed in the gorgeous opening sequence). The mystery is not shockingly unique, but it takes the tropes and uses them to the fullest extent. The suspense is high, and the twists will certainly cause goosebumps.

Watching “Stoker” is like witnessing a moving painting. Park Chan-Wook’s sumptuous style influences every shot, and he crafts each frame with the care of a sculptor. I found my breath taken away several times by the sheer beauty of the cinematography. I’m a sucker for color schemes, and “Stoker” uses them to the fullest extent, pairing pale greens, blues and yellows with rich blood-reds. The visuals evoke the perfect mix of Southern Gothic and decadence, blending together to make a crisp and engaging atmosphere. If there is one reason to see “Stoker,” it is to give your eyes a treat. I would go so far as to compare the cinematography to that of a Kubrick film.

A surprising bit of brilliance can also be found in the sound design. As India is constantly hyper-aware of everything around her, the design must pay special attention to detail, bringing out every footstep and movement of even the smallest objects. The film uses this to establish her character, and also to give the audience a sense of unease. In the more gruesome scenes, the sound design becomes downright disturbing.

The performances are wonderful as well. Wasikowska brings India to life in an almost transcendent way, and even when she’s not speaking, we know exactly what’s on her mind. Kidman is also transformed as the beautiful but rather unstable Evie. Goode can be a little too blank at points, but it works most of the time. The supporting characters are fantastic as well.

The script, however, is rather flawed – there are certain pieces of dialogue, especially in the first third of the film, that become cringe-worthy. That being said, parts of the script are kind of brilliant, particularly Evie’s monologue about parenting that is hinted at in the trailer. I find the flaws excusable, considering that it is Miller’s first effort, but it may detract from the visuals and story for some.

As a sensory experience in general, it’s hard to get any better than “Stoker.” It has its flaws, but the visual and auditory aspects are incredible. As a thriller, it works well too, building tension and delivering twists that will satisfy. The ending leaves it ambiguous, and will promote discussion, though I won’t say about what. I recommend “Stoker” for any fans of beautiful works of cinema, or anyone who just wants a good old-fashioned mystery.

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