One of my favorite movies is Old Boy, and its director, Park Chan-wook, is a talented filmmaker. There’s a bite to the stories he’s told, and they’re punctuated with tight cinematography and visuals. For the longest time I anticipated the debut of his first American film, Stoker, but it’s taken me over three months to get around to seeing it due to its limited release. Now that I have, I can confidently report that in most respects, Stoker met my expectations—such as in the visual department. However, it’s also an imperfect affair—specifically in the narrative.
The movie begins at the funeral of Richard Stoker, father of the central character, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), and husband to her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Their mourning doesn’t last long, as soon thereafter Richard’s brother, Charlie (Mathew Goode) moves in with the two. Charlie appears to be a jack-of-all-trades, quickly making a good impression on everyone save for India, whom he has taken a particular interest in. As time goes on, India begins to mature and form a relationship with Charlie in ways that she’d never expected before, putting her at odds with her mother.
Stoker is one of those films where next to no one within its universe behaves like a completely normal human being. Each primary character has their own issues that influence how they behave, but they aren’t exactly the most exhilarating to watch. The movie moves at a patient pace without feeling too long—but that’s only if you have patience and an appreciation for the movie’s visual storytelling. It wouldn’t be held against you if you didn’t find the characters too engaging—despite the capable performances from the cast. In spite of their subdued mannerisms and behaviors, the actors—especially Wasikowska and Goode—manage to compliment the film’s often unnerving atmosphere. Admittedly, this makes it all the more impactful whenever a shocking scene occurs.
What really stands out in the film are the visuals. Lots of negative space, symbolism, original transitions, and clever imagery are present, and much of the story is told through them. The abstractness and uniqueness utilized in many of the movie’s shots and conversions add to the creepiness value of the overall picture. There’s also an anachronistic appeal derived from the setting of the movie and the costumes worn by the characters; almost as if this was a story displaced in time.
The film’s themes of maturity and corruption are touched upon in different ways—one of which unsurprisingly being sexual. However, much akin to the film that partially influenced it, Lolita, the movie doesn’t quite reach that point to which it seemingly is escalating to truly shake you. I admit this may just be me, but maybe it would have been more effective had the characters (India, precisely) not been so blasé from the beginning of the movie. This would have made her development more impactful and organic. Nonetheless, Stoker is a success in spite of some narrative issues due to its eerie atmosphere and immaculate imagery—which in their own ways tell the story better than the characters and their dialogue ever could.