(Stoked about) Stoker Review

Stoker Review*
*I realize “Stoked for Stoker” is played out and I’m not the only one who immediately thought of it, but I like it.
By Bret Dorman

Finally! A movie from 2013 I can really get behind! Usually by now there’s at least one flick I really like, but so far I’ve just kind of liked to sort of disliked movies.

So I’m going to make no illusions, I really dug Stoker.

Classic Stoker Trio.

Classic Stoker Trio.

The Story: India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) doesn’t really like her mom Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). She prefers her dad Richard (Dermot Mulroney) but her dad dies in a car crash. Enter: her Uncle Charles (Matthew Goode), whom India didn’t even know existed until the day her father died. Is Charles being seduced by Evelyn? Or is Chalres seducing India? What is going on?! Mystery! Also, India has a lot of shoes.

While I am very familiar with the Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy (and his part in 3 Extremes!), I have still yet to catch up on Thirst and Cyborg. Regardless, I really dig his visual style and it is refreshing to see someone continue to keep their unique visual personality while climbing the Hollywood ladder. I should also note I’m not particularly a fan of Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland? Yuck! Lawless? not much for her to do) or Matthew Goode (other than Match Point not very familiar with his work). And as far as Nicole Kidman is concerned, I don’t really like her acting or her movies.

Innocence Ends. Yes it does.

Innocence Ends. Yes it does.

I guess the point is I came in very hopeful, but also skeptical. The one early review I glazed over was not very positive at all. Normally I wouldn’t just take any review and base my expectations on that, but I have come to trust slashfilm for being a pretty good barometer for my own opinions. More and more reviews came in and most people were either disappointed or mildly enthused. Staying away from trailers, I didn’t know what to expect other than incest-y stuff and some murder.

Then as the movie started, I could see the frustrations others were having with the film. Yes, Park Chan-Wook has a very interesting and distinct style, but there seemed to be something missing, and not just by design. However, like with Rust and Bone last year, there came a moment in the story where I knew I was completely on board no matter what. The Piano Scene. The sexual tension combined with the surprise element of both characters playing piano well, and doing so together all edited in a way that combined past and present had me dizzy with affection. I knew I was a fan during this scene and was hoping that the movie would not let me down afterwards. Luckily it didn’t. It just kept getting more and more intriguing.

The Piano Scene.

The Piano Scene.

Stoker isn’t about realistic people, or even slightly exaggerated ones. Its about characters. These reserved characters who try to work out what angle the other ones are playing against them all in their heads. Yes it is quiet and slow, but as the situations, role reversals, and reveals get crazier and crazier the characters remain consistently cold. In any other movie where a character might have an outburst of emotion, the characters of Stoker process the information with subtlety and see how that information might work in their favor.

I like movies that feature interesting takes on strange characters. Its that simple. And like with (Korean but not Chan-Wook) I Saw The Devil I like movies that create an intimate world then bring the audience in on a journey of constant “one-uppery” as the characters reveal certain facts or act a certain way that adds to the over tone. For Devil, I sort of named these characters Titan Characters, as they appeared to be Titans in a world of normal people. Titans are able to sense each other and how they interact says more about themselves than what they do alone. Stoker is about two Titans, India and Charles, living in very close corners reacting in very different ways while staying very intimate with each other.

Ouchies.

Ouchies.

One of the traits these two Titans share is the ability to hear what no one else can hear. This is used literally in the sound design as everything is amplified. At first, I thought this was an admirable trait, if they could keep it going… and in fact they do! I was dismissive at first seeing as its hard to keep sounds amplified without it getting distracting or annoying, but as the movie went on I was impressed at how these heightened sound effects were not only used effectively, but appropriately used in scenes to create moments of tension and shock.

A lot of movies feature some sort of love angle. Usually it boils down to a good looking dude making out with a good looking chick combined with shots of them in bed with little clothes on as a camera pans back and forth on their backs and gyrating hips. Its sexy to a point, but not really interesting. Stoker features many shots of implied sexuality, or rather, sensuality and seduction, without having to resort to characters stripping down. The movie becomes extremely sexy while at the same time being subtly creepy and/or overtly disturbing. I think its refreshing to see such sexual fetishisms on screen treated seriously, even if said fetishisms are morally apprehensible.

Great Job!

Great Job!

Even though Park Chan-Wook didn’t write the script, its filled with his usually twisty turny narratives. At one point, India finds out a bit about Charles’ past, then finds something else out, then is confronted by him and forced to make a decision all within a ten minute timespan. I understand how that’ll throw a lot of people off. How can I expect to be thrown for a twist when you undo that twist then twist that twist all before I’ve settled into the first twist?! Yes, it’s overwhelming at first, but I imagine upon multiple viewings (and I can’t wait to watch this again) it’ll get easier. Instead of sitting on information and having to watch characters act inappropriately with that information, the story moves fast through these twisty turns and lets us get to the more character based sensual silences and awkward stares. First time screenwriter Wentworth Miller (apparently the dude from Prison Break and some Mariah Carrey video, both of which I’ve never seen) actually delivers a strong script that gains momentum as it reaches its crazy ending.

Lastly, I really think all of the cast is great. I imagine it must be hard to be calm and quiet in front of a camera, unsure if you’re relaying the intricacies of the character properly. But everyone is super confident and has just the right face for the role (a weird compliment I’m sure, hey actor, nice job at having a face!), as well as little inflections that just make things extra creepy. Matthew Goode plays a sociopath with distinct charm and Mia Wasikowska is great as both an innocent little girl and deadly force to be reckoned with. And Nicole Kidman, well, even though I’m not a fan I think she’s absolutely perfect in this role, which maybe could have used a bit more fleshing out. She’s drop dead sexy, posture perfect, and her big monologue (you know, from all the trailers) is delivered with a self-aware sense of cool while also being pretty badass.



In Conclusion, I don’t know if Stoker will end up in my Top 10 of the year or not. It doesn’t matter where it ultimately falls in the end. What matters is that this is the first movie of 2013 that really had me excited to engage in a conversation after (and luckily an old coworker had seen it and provided that immediate conversation). I don’t see the movie as good but flawed, I see it as awkwardly perfect.

Final Grade: A









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3 responses to “(Stoked about) Stoker Review

  1. Wonderful review! I felt exactly the same. I didn´t expect too much and just went to see the movie because I had a little time and like the director – it kept me at the edge of my seat right from the first moment. The hidden present in the tree, the sitting statue, the weird round stones – even her, pricking her toe…all parts of a weird and beautiful magic. And right, the piano-scene is one of the – if not the – most beautiful and breathtaking love-scenes I have ever seen. Not in spite, but because of the dark side involved: This is so beautiful and sexy, and at the same time SO clever (right! the surprise that he plays so well!) and well done – but also really really twisted, I was literally overwhelmed. I am not 100% happy with the ending though.. but couldn´t say how it should have ended differently..
    I will watch “I saw the devil” as soon as possible, since you liked it so much for reasons that usually make me like movies very much. See “Thirst”! Such a great vampire-movie! Funny, twisted, clever, sexy, too, and well..korean. I like it much better than the vengeance-trilogy. Sorry for writing-mistakes, I´m no native speaker. Best, Anna

    • I will probably watch Thirst some time this week. Yeah, I’d recommend “I Saw The Devil” to everyone but it is pretty gory/rough. If you can deal with The Silence Of The Lambs and Oldboy you might be ok. Its like that, just a bit more quantitatively throughout.

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