Stoker is Park Chan-wook’s first English-language film and far from being a directorial debut in the anglophone world, it has proved itself to be undoubtedly the work of a great, accomplished Director.
It tells the story of the Stoker family – mother Evie (Nicole Kidman), daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) and uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). India’s father has recently died in a mysterious accident and, at his funeral, a previously silent and invisible Uncle Charlie returns full of charm, to slowly weave his way into the minds of each family member.
Stoker is a film that grows with its audience. It presents us with a perfectly plausible surface layer of intrigue only to lead us deeper into a world of understanding that constantly reveals what lurks beneath the surface of our original interpretations.
“Just as a flower cannot choose its color, we are not responsible for what we’ve come to be.”
This seemingly simple statement, voiced in the opening sequence of Stoker, takes on a rather ironic tone throughout the course of the film, as it becomes clear that Chan-wook has scrutinised every single visual to perfection. He is entirely responsible for what his film has come to be. The precision of each scene is simply astonishing. In an interview at the Sundance Festival Nicole Kidman comments on this herself: “This film is not messy. This film is very, very concisely put together…” Not once are we, the audience, presented with a feeling of freedom nor are we blown away by the ‘naturalness’ of the acting. In fact, the robotic, puppet-like movements of each character, whilst somehow opposing the original statement above, serve to add to the gothic beauty of the film and to create an ambiance that is both haunting and melancholic.
Indeed, this melancholy is born of Stoker’s tendency to be continually drawn back into the past; specifically towards an old-school kind of gothic horror. (Queue creaky doors and dusty cobwebs). We are only reminded of its contemporary status by the modern sounds of the radio or by Evie’s comments on the exaggerated primness of India’s dress. Chan-wook’s quite obvious title nod to Bram Stoker’s Dracula also can’t be ignored…
Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung has excelled here with images that are saturated with colour and vitality whilsts still remaining faithful to Chan-wook’s military perfection. The scene in which India lies on her bed encircled by boxes of shoes in perfect symmetry, showcases Chung and Chan-wook’s collaboration to perfect effect.
Stoker’s success is last but by no means least, down to its stellar cast. Mia Wasikowska shines as the dark and damaged India who experiences a sexual awakening in response to the terrifyingly charming uncle Charlie, performed to perfection by Matthew Goode. Lastly, Nicole Kidman excells as the ice-cold Evie who delivers a spine-chilling speech at the film’s finale, epitomizing for me, each character’s truly evil nature:
“I’ve often wondered why it is we have children in the first place […] [W]e want someone to get it right this time. But not me. Personally speaking, I cannot wait to see life tear you apart.”
Stoker is at once gruesome and stunning, haunting and beautiful, frantic and silent. But above all it’s a real work of art that will leave its residual effects on you for hours after the cinema doors have opened.