I didn’t know what to expect from Stoker, the first English language film from Oldboy director Chan-wook Park, but I had high hopes both from the director and the talented cast he assembled (Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode).
The film tells the story of India Stoker who loses her father in a freak car accident on her 18th birthday, so her mysterious Uncle Charlie moves in and from thereon in everything gets a little messed up as India and her mother become more and more infatuated with the man. It’s co-written by Wentworth Miller (that guy from Prison Break, and that Mariah Carey video) which from a personal perspective seemed strangely ironic as I spent my 15th and 16th years infatuated by him, but in a much more healthy way.
Whilst I really enjoyed the film, those with whom I went and the other three people in the screening did not. One called it a ‘film for people who like films’, which is almost a perfect description, it is a film for a cine-literate audience. Firstly, it’s clearly a love letter to Hitchcock with obvious references to Shadow of a Doubt, a film in which a mysterious Uncle Charlie comes to stay, and at times it is almost an instructional video of how to create a note perfect Hitchcock film. This creates a problem because it both partially alienates non-Hitchcock fans from certain references and the plot leaves nothing for the Hitchcock fan to guess at. There is next to no mystery, as soon as you reach plot point A you can see how you’re going to get to point B via twists at C, D and E. However, there is a certain shower scene which I don’t think anyone saw coming.
It is also an homage to the Gothic tradition, from the (one would assume) Bram Stoker reference in the title, the ideas of women growing up, twisted families and the defiled white flower covered in blood. It is a film full of metaphor and is essentially written in the language of film. It says more with its strange penchant for shoes than it does in the entire script, you could watch it with the sound off and still know what was happening.
But, if you were to watch it on mute, you would miss my favourite part of the film which is the wonderful job done by the sound editors. The film plays with sound to bring you closer (or further away) from the characters, and does what all good soundtracks do, immerses you into the experience by placing you at the heart. There is also some fantastic use of sound bridges, but even as I type this, I realise I am just reiterating the point that this is a film for film geeks.
My major issue with it, is that it doesn’t seem to know when it’s set. We begin with people dressed from the 1950s meeting more people from the 1950s, with a cook and a housekeeper dressed from the 1800s, whilst a girl dressed from the 1940s reads a book about Victorian times. It wasn’t until someone uses a mobile phone that the current day gets forced down the throat of this anachronistic house. Whilst this is probably another of Park’s metaphor, it’s not one that worked for me on any level, if anything it took me further away from the plot. In my humble opinion it almost would’ve been better as a period drama.
Ultimately, it’s the acting which elevates this film from some sort of small cult art house film, mainly because Matthew Goode wonderfully creepy, Mia Wasikowska portrays the grieving and isolated teenager perfectly, whilst Nicole Kidman is on top crazy mother form. But, the more I think about it, the less I enjoyed the film itself; I enjoyed the different parts more than I enjoyed the cohesive piece which felt overladen with good ideas which weren’t slotted together well enough.