It feels like Chan-wook Park has been around forever. His brilliant visual style has turned a lot of his films into cult classics. It is surprising then that Park hasn’t made the jump to Hollywood, especially given that he would have been offered every highly-stylised script under the sun. It turns out Chan-wook Park was waiting for the right script, and that right script is Wentworth Miller’s Stoker. Has the great director bucked the trend and made an amazing English language debut or is this just another stinker from a foreign talent?
Stoker stars Mia Wasikowska is India Stoker, on her 18th birthday she learns her father has been killed in a tragic car accident. At the funeral, India’s mother (Nicole Kidman) introduces her to an Uncle she never knew she had. Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) moves in with his family members to help out where necessary. India is unsure of her Uncle’s intentions, but eventually becomes obsessed with discovering his and the families dark secrets.
Chan-wook Park’s visual style is beloved. Known by most for the legitimate classic Oldboy, Park tells his stories almost entirely through editing and cinematography. Whilst that does lead to a lot of style over substance, his films are incredibly detailed and he loads his visuals with subtext. Scenes that would normally seem innocent, for example India and Charlie’s piano scene here in Stoker, have more weight thanks to how Park has decided to visualise the feelings of his characters. Park has done it his whole career and Stoker is another scrumptious visual feast from the master.
The cast assembled for Stoker are all very talented. Mia Wasikowska is one of the best young actresses in Hollywood, capable of great depth, she has quietly been carving out a fantastic filmography the last few years. Stoker is her first strong lead role and she nails all the darkness required from of her. Matthew Goode is also incredible in what would be his best role to date, he is wonderfully charming and creepy, with a lot of the films unease coming directly from his performance. Nicole Kidman and Jacki Weaver are perhaps wasted a little, but both do solid work in small roles. Perhaps the greatest thing the cast bring to Stoker is the amazing chemistry they share. Goode is fantastic with both lead ladies and their sexual tension builds to almost unbearable highs.
Stoker is the debut screenplay from Wentworth Miller. For a debut, he has been blessed by the perfect director and cast that can bring the most out of his screenplay. Miller’s script, whilst not at all bad, is sadly unsurprising and very predictable. There are no surprises and in a lot of respects the film plays its content a little too safe. The plot is harsh and uncompromising, with the final scenes being breathtakingly shocking, however they are still predictable. The dialogue sometimes feels bogged down and unnatural, it is most annoying in the large group scenes. This is a solid debut from Miller, its blacklisting is proof of that, but it needed a clean-up of the dialogue and maybe an unpredictable twist or two.
Stoker works thanks to Chan-wook Park’s outstanding direction. Despite his huge emphasis on violence in most of his other work, he leaves most of the film’s violence to the imagination. This coupled with the disturbing performances from Wasikowska and Goode make Stoker unsettling viewing for even the toughest observer. The film is only let down by the predictability and the stilted dialogue contained with Miller’s script. All said, Stoker is worthy of the praise it has been receiving, even if it doesn’t all come together perfectly.