2013, 98 minutes
Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content
Stoker marks the American film debut of acclaimed South Korean director Park Chan-wook, best known for his violent, stylized films, many of which are centered around revenge (Oldboy is his most famous). Stoker was written by Wentworth Miller, of the TV show Prison Break and follows India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman whose creepy uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode), comes to live with her and her mother, Evie (Nicole Kidman), after her father dies in an accident.
This film's greatest strengths are in the acting and technical departments. Matthew Goode gives a wonderfully eerie performance as Charlie. His chemistry with Wasikowska is spot-on. Wasikowska, at 23, is already one of the most versatile actresses working now with leading parts in Tim Burton's 2010 film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland and Cary Fukunaga's brilliant 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre. In Stoker, she plays a reserved teen who is awakened in many ways by Charlie. With very little dialogue to work with, Wasikowska internalizes her feelings and shows them on her face, creating a supreme intensity. Nicole Kidman is solid, as usual, as Evie.
Park Chan-wook directs this movie with serious style working perfectly in sync with frequent-cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung and master composer Clint Mansell. Park has complete control over the film and Chung's cinematography and Mansell's beautiful score move together. Chung's cinematography is dreamy and lyrical, emphasizing the sinister undertones of the film and creating a frightening atmosphere. Production designer Thérèse DePrez's magnificent production design adds to the atmosphere. The Southern Gothic feel of the film makes it feel as if Stoker was set in the 1950s, but modern touches make the film's time period harder to determine, an intentional choice by the filmmakers.
The screenplay of Stoker is what brings it down substantially. The basic story is like a kinkier, more demented, but far less effective version of the brilliant 1943 Hitchcock film Shadow of a Doubt. It also has a very weird flow, is utterly predictable, and almost devoid of surprises. In addition, the dialogue isn't great either. Mr. Miller was very lucky to have such an amazing cast and crew working on this film because without them, Stoker would have become just another genre exercise that would have been made as an average thriller.
Overall, while relying on its style over its substance, Stoker is nonetheless a very entertaining, disturbing exercise in gothic horror by one of the greatest filmmakers working today. Many filmmakers fail upon their English-language film debut, but Park succeeds in making a good film that will be accessible to American audiences, while putting his own distinctive mark on the film.