Going Out
Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode star in ‘Stoker’.
Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode star in ‘Stoker’.

Stoking family flames

Mike Heneghan

‘Stoker’ is Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s English-language debut after such memorable and mesmerising films as ‘Old Boy’ and ‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance’, and his first feature in four years since the patchy but enjoyable rom-horror ‘Thirst’.
India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is turning 18. Every year she gets a new pair of shoes from her father – except this year. When she opens the box, she finds something else: A key. Then something else unexpected happens: Her father is killed in a terrible car accident. At the funeral she meets her desirable-but-sinister Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), someone of whom she has never heard. He moves into her house after the funeral, apparently acting as a protector to her and a suitor to India’s mother (Nicole Kidman). But what are his true motives?
Based on a script by Wentworth Miller (unexpectedly, the lead actor of ‘Prison Break’ fame), it is heavily influenced by the work of Alfred Hitchcock, in particular ‘Shadow of a Doubt’.
The film carries an 18s certificate, and being familiar with the director’s Korean work, I expected some degree of violence or gore (the title is also loaded with that expectation). But this was not the case, the certificate perhaps earned by the developing incestuous nature of India’s relationship with her dangerous Uncle Charlie. That’s not to say the film isn’t occasionally violent, but don’t be expecting (or fearing) anything as physically discomfiting as the teeth-pull scene in Old Boy.
‘Stoker’ feels listless and unmotivated, but the driving force is not narrative. Rather it is texture and tone, with overt symbolism expressing India’s coming of age as a woman (and as perhaps something more sinister), and of Charlie’s predation on that sexuality, and his attempts to awaken in her the bloodlust that is in himself.

The film does enjoy Park Chan-Wook’s strong visual sense, but at some stages I felt that this was more of a hindrance than a help, disconnecting me from what was happening on-screen by giving me beautiful visuals that left me musing on them rather than on the patchy story.
This is perhaps because the characters seem to lack a defined motivation, even by the film’s end. It’s hard to tell why any of them are doing what they are doing. That can be okay, but in this case the characters’ actions feel forced by the plot.
The dialogue and performances are also occasionally quite awkward (with the exception of Matthew Goode’s boiling, reptilian sexuality as Uncle Charlie). Nicole Kidman as India’s mother plays a character from a different era that jars against common sense. In fact, the whole film feels that way, presenting at times an America from the mid 1950s, complete with greasers and socs, but not very comfortably. Things just don’t seem to fit together.
Though some cite creative choice as a motivation for the style of performance (which again I would be fully behind), it sometimes feels that the actors’ directions were not clearly communicated. Park usually has the assistance of a translator for English interviews, and I imagine that this was also the case on his first English set.
The most burdensome compliment that you can give a film is to describe it as ‘interesting’, and it is certainly that: a very interesting film, with some great scenes, a wonderful texture. It glows with the genius of Park Chan-Wook. But ultimately, its back is broken by frustrating performances and a script with too many holes.

Rating 4 out of 10