Despite a decade of experience under his belt on the circuit, it wasn’t until the widely regarded modern classic ‘Oldboy’ from 2003 that Park Chan-Wook’s directorial prowess was truly recognised. Steadily building a solid reputation with the likes of ‘Lady Vengeance’ and ‘I’m A Cyborg’, the Korean auteur now makes the leap to the bright lights of Hollywood. In many instances, we’ve seen a foreign director’s vision be diluted/watered down in order to cater for mainstream audiences. Judging by his latest project’s peculiar trailer, Chan-Wook seems determined to stain that belief with his artistic flourishes.
Scripted by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, ‘Stoker’ puts a mirror up to the trials and tribulations of one upper class family reeling from tragedy. Carving a deeply troubled and distant figure, 18 year old India (Mia Wasikowska) struggles to come to terms with the loss of her beloved father Richard (Dermot Mulroney). The cause of death shrouded in mystery. Her social life non-existent. Her perplexed mother Evie (Nicole Kidman) more concerned with having her hand glued to a glass of the finest wine, than grieving.
Such an unhealthy form of ‘moving on’ continues in a perverse vein, when their globe trotting Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) shows up unannounced. Complete with an overwhelmingly charming demeanour, he worms his way into their home much to India’s disdain. Immediately deeming him untrustworthy, her suspicions are confirmed by the simmering sexual tension he attempts to instill into his relationships with Evie as well as India. A genuine attraction.. or are there sinister motives lurking beneath the surface?
Director Chan-Wook here takes the notion of family dysfunctionality and accentuates it in unashamedly weird fashion. The film may not instantly engage, with the richness and poetic nature of its sumptuous albeit disorientating visuals, initially compensating for the lack of development in its plot or characters. With such restraint however, ‘Stoker’ slowly works its way through the narrative gears. Eventually unravelling as a feature with real substance, encapsulated by the seamless intercutting between sequences mirroring the emerging cohesion.
The amplification of sound coupled with the operatic ‘bombast’ of the film’s score, only enhances the well established unnerving atmosphere and the underplayed nature of its on screen performances. Each character trajectory all channel a sense of longing yet are skewered versions of their ideal, none more so than Mia Wasikowska’s enigmatic turn as India. A repressed sexual awakening intertwined with vicious forms of ‘acting out’, she is a fantastical representation of your average teen coming of age. Kidman provides a nuanced performance as Evie, whom is almost oblivious to her ‘failings’ as a parent with her ‘short term fix’ mindset fuelling the belief. The catalyst for such disintegration between relatives, Matthew Goode’s shady Charlie is a seductive figure complete with a chilling backstory fitting of a distant sibling.
Brimming with visual metaphors. Laced with eroticism. ‘Stoker’ whilst bound to prove an acquired taste, is a visually exquisite and truly haunting cinematic concoction that is a delight to behold.