Featured Posts

Reviews Load More

Features Load More

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Review: Stoker

Clocking in as the second in my "Films to see in 2013" list, Stoker is Chan-wook Park's English language debut was easily going to be anticipated by me, a general fan of his work in Oldboy, soon to be remade. The trailers were incredibly enticing and the script, written by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, made Hollywood's Black List as one of the top unproduced scripts of 2010. Sadly, despite my excitement going in, it's the latter factor that causes Stoker to crumple like the paper it was written on.

The entire film takes place within flashback centering on 18 year old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), where we visit her on her birthday in which she and her mother, Evie (Nicole Kidman) receive news of the death of her father (Dermot Mulrooney). While at the funeral, India meets her heretofore never mentioned Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), with whom Evie is completely, and a bit inappropriately, taken with. By the night of the funeral it is decided that Charlie will move in with them and he quickly ingratiates himself to Evie despite India's coldness towards him and basically everyone else. Eventually, he begins to even charm him way into the good graces of India, but something is very wrong with Charlie. And apparently, India isn't all that well either. Blood is spilled and secrets are discovered.

Throughout Stoker, Park clearly wears two influences on his sleeve, that of Hitchcock and of the 19th century literary tradition. Every shot of Stoker is a stylized homage to the "master of suspense" and the camerawork really is lovely to behold. The film takes place in a sort of surreal world that isn't dissimilar from say, something that might come from David Lynch and occasionally there are even shots that are what some might dub "perfume commercial-esque". The cinematography is a fascinating hybrid between Lynch, Hitchcock, and Resnais and for this reviewer it utterly makes the entire experience. Park's mastery of style is in clear evidence throughout, and for example, within my favorite shot: when India is walking through the household basement, the film transitions for just a brief moment into almost classic horror from the eerie suspense that mostly takes hold throughout. It's so refreshing to see a director that can evoke that potential mood for only a moment with the simplest of tricks. Park's work here echoes a modern day interpretation of the works of Poe in places, even. Alfred would be proud.

It's a shame then, that the script is so utterly transparent and frankly loses its sense by the time it hits the finishing line. Which comes as a terrible surprise, as Stoker starts off firing on all cylinders. When Charlie first arrives at the house and his effect on the women within it become clearer, and his nighttime activities begin to display on screen, Stoker takes on a bit of its namesake and I began to think we were seeing a beautifully rendered "vampire" story, just without the vampire. Considering both that and the suspense genre had been lacking a standout entry for a number of years, I was so elated by the opening acts of the film. The problems begin to come in when Charlie's background is explained. Modern day horror is occasionally cursed with this idea that it needs to explain its villain. This is where Rob Zombie failed when he remade John Carpenter's Halloween. When you give your monster a fleshed out background and try to define why he does what it does, it robs him of his power and, in Charlie's case, he becomes more of a crazy schmoe than the surreal Dracula that permeated the film's opening acts. This eventual turn of events, less so a twist, sets up a plot point involving India returning her to the point of the film's beginning so it doesn't feel completely out of place but just feels bizarrely out of sync. Hannah summed it up best when we left the theater, "what started out like a vampire movie, somehow turned into an episode of Dexter", and believe me in our household, this is not a compliment. When a film's final act retroactively starts to sour you on the rest of the experience, that's a big problem. There are some additional problems with subplots in the film that never quite take off, particularly an element involving bullies and an attempted rape that feels somewhat out of left field and betrays a little bit of what we seem to know about a supporting character in order to serve the plot function.

The performances throughout are generally quite good. Wasikowska displays a level of acting talent we weren't able to witness in the giant mess that was Alice in Wonderland. As India, she plays a sort of "Wednesday Adams played straight" and her slight character evolution through the course of the film is quite believable. As the focal point of the film, Wasikowska certainly proved capable of the highlight. Goode gives another performance of note, while I had some reservations about him post-Watchmen where he was clearly overmatched by his material, since he's done great work in films like this and A Single Man and I'm hoping this means his career is headed for an upswing critically. In Stoker, he's a fascinating predator, whose power over women feels completely real. He, unfortunately, is the least served by the script's revelations. Kidman comes off a little worse for wear here, as she reminds me of something out of a bad production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", and I found her often distracting from the goings on of the story mechanics. Mulrooney and Jacki Weaver make no real impression as they're in and out somewhat quickly.

If I had to say what I could recommend about Stoker, I think it would revolve around the idea of how a skillful director can make a watchable feature out of even the weakest of scripts. We saw a great example of this a few years ago with Nicholas Winding Refn in Drive, who cut out any extraneous elements of the script and reshaped a fairly typical narrative in order to make his (and Ryan Gosling's) vision stand out. Park had alot more heavy lifting to do here and his visual flair almost makes the effort worthwhile, but Miller's script is unfortunately too much to overcome. This is a script that was unproduced for good reason, and along with Broken City, I'm starting to debate the wisdom of the Black List. I recommend it for the techies out there, but it's far from a satisfying cinematic experience on the whole.

I give it a C+.
Share This

comments powered by Disqus

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts
© GeekRex All rights reserved