Film Review: Stoker

stoker

Every year, a bunch of unproduced scripts float around Hollywood on something known as the ‘Black List’. Little known films such as Argo and The Social Network started out on the Black List before being picked up, whilst others include Juno, The Road and Safe House. One of the more recent scripts plucked from the List is Stoker, the debut screenplay from Wentworth Miller – yep, that guy from Prison Break – which has attracted Oldboy directer Park-chan Wook to direct his first English language film.

India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is mourning the loss of her father when her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), of whom she was never before aware, comes to stay with her and her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). However, there’s something a little off about Charlie and his presence and motives become increasingly questionable as both India and Evelyn become more and more infatuated with him.

Stoker begins rather slowly and struggles to find any kind of decent pacing. Its opening third perhaps doesn’t establish the tension and curiosity it needs to and it’s difficult to know the kind of direction the film is taking, stuck in a limbo between style and substance. However, after the half hour mark it ramps everything up significantly and it becomes a much more absorbing and enthralling film.

Mia Wasikowska & Matthew GoodeIt also makes no bones about its central themes. This is a film about strangers, sexual awakening, loss of innocence, and family relations (Brian de Palma’s Carrie is clearly an influence). It doesn’t always spell these out explicitly but rather beats you around the head with imagery and metaphors to get its point across, which can feel a little over the top at times. It is, however, exquisitely shot with a number of memorable moments – a scene between Charlie and India at the piano is a highlight, although again a (very) thinly veiled metaphor.

Stoker is a pseudo-reimagining of Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and the entire film has a very Hitchcockian feel to it. There are some obvious parallels and similarities – uncle Charlie shares the same name is SoaD’s mysterious uncle – and there are some more subtle – stuffed birds recall Psycho, whilst the shot of India’s reflection in a pair of glasses is reminiscent of a famous shot in Strangers on a Train. Stoker even has its own (very different) shower scene. The film’s general foreboding tone also feels like a modern Hitchcock thriller with a few elements of Asian horror thrown in, refreshing a genre that has spent far too long away from cinemas.

The performances are universally rather awkward but they work for the film. Wasikowska is ideal as the film’s cold detached lead, whilst Kidman is suitably fractious. However, it’s Matthew Goode as Charlie who adds real bite to the film. Warm and friendly one minute and menacingly creepy the next, he provides a genuine sense of unease throughout.

There’s nothing in Stoker that we haven’t seen before and it may prove a somewhat divisive film, but the material is largely handled very well. It sometimes thinks a little too highly of itself and may occasionally step into self-indulgence territory, but as a dark, gothic thriller it’s atmospheric, unnerving and ultimately very effective.

4 pigeons4/5 pigeons

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44 thoughts on “Film Review: Stoker

  1. Mr Rumsey says:

    Sounds good! I do mean to see this sometime.

  2. keith7198 says:

    Glad to read this. It’s not showing here but I’ve really wanted to see it. Yet mixed reviews concerned me a little. But as you mentioned Matthew Goode sounds fantastic. Many people have singled out his creepy work.

  3. Mark Walker says:

    Great review Chris. I’m really looking forward to this one. If only to see how Park Chan Wook is getting on.

    • Cheers Mark. I think Park Chan Wook does a decent job with this. He’s none too subtle about some of the themes and messages in there but I really liked how it was shot. I’ve only seen Oldboy of his previous work but I thought that was great.

  4. filmhipster says:

    I’ve heard a lot of good things about Park Chan-wook’s work, haven’t had a chance to see anything he’s done yet though. Well done Chris, I’ll keep my eyes open for this, especially at 4/5 pigeons.

    • I’ve only seen Oldboy other than this but I definitely recommend that. Thanks mate, this is definitely worth a watch I feel. It’s a difficult one to know who will like it though as it’s hard some 5 star reviews but some 1 star ones too.

  5. mettelray says:

    Me wants to see this one really bad! Me has to wait what seems to be forever. 😀

  6. ruth says:

    Great review Chris! I’m about to review this tonight or this weekend. It’s not my cup of tea but I thought it was meticulously-crafted and beautifully-shot. I haven’t seen that Hitchcock film so it felt *fresh* to me. I’m not sure I want to venture to Park’s other works though,I have a feeling this one is not as violent as his other stuff.

    • Thank you Ruth! I look forward to your review, interesting to hear what your more detailed thoughts are. I can totally get that this isn’t for everyone, though. I have only seen Oldboy of Park’s previous work but it’s pretty violent, this is nowhere near at that level!

      • ruth says:

        Yeah, I’m grateful that most of the violence in Stoker happens off-screen but still it’s pretty frightening for my feeble nerves. I KNOW for a fact I cannot handle Oldboy, I don’t need to prove myself by seeing it, ahah.

      • It does get pretty tense at times and I think it does have a little Asian horror mixed in there at times. Oldboy isn’t scary or anything, just brutal, but if you know that’s not your thing then I wouldn’t subject yourself to it 🙂

      • ruth says:

        Oh yeah, I think gory and brutal is what I mean. I don’t even mind scary if it’s more of a psychological horror like say, Sixth Sense. But seeing bodies being chopped off and the likes I just can’t handle. Thanks Chris!

  7. Victor De Leon says:

    Nice write up! I wasn’t really that enthused to see Stoker but now my curiosity is piqued and I have yet to watch Park’s other films. i do have Oldboy lined up though. Thanks!

  8. Good review, this film intrigues me and looks very cool 😀

    Kind of looks like an Adams family but with more drama and less comedy 😀

  9. Beer Movie says:

    Cool review. Shadow of a Doubt is my favourite Hitchcock film, so keen to check this out for the similarities. Big fan of the cast, especially Goode and Waskiowska as well.

    • Cheers man. If SoaD is your favourite Hitchcock, it’d be interesting to see how you felt about this. I’ve not seen it for quite a while so not sure exactly how similar it is but the general theme is along the same lines. Both Goode and Wasikowska are really good, they aren’t hugely deep performances but they work for the film.

  10. sati says:

    Awesome review! I’m looking forward to this one, I really like Kiidman and Wasikowska is always excellent. The story is probably nothing surprising but we don’t get enough thrillers like this one nowadays. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack last week – wow, they are so lucky they got Mansell to do it, really lovely music.

    • Thank you 🙂
      yeah the story isn’t anything groundbreaking at all to be honest but I don’t think there’s been much like this for a while, at least nothing i’ve seen. It really does feel like a modern Hitchcock thriller. I may have to check the soundtrack out; I must confess I didn’t really pay much attention to it when I saw the film, but it’s awesome Clint Mansell has done it.

  11. Trying to convince my buddies to go and check this one out tomorrow. Got sort of a limited release around these parts.

  12. Great review. Been looking forward to this one ever since the trailer came out. Didn’t know Wentworth Miller scripted this one!

    • Cheers mate. I was a little taken aback when I found out it was Wentworth Miller too. Hope you getntomsee it at some point, no idea when it’s due out your way and it only had a very limited release here unfortunately.

  13. Great review. Disappointed that I didn’t get to see this one on the big screen but looking forward to the dvd!

  14. Mark Hobin says:

    While Stoker superficially recalls Hitchcock in some shots, I didn’t think he script even came close to his wit or subtlety. Self consciously arty shots don’t take the place of a coherent story. Why didn’t India call the police when she discovered a dead body in her freezer? There were so many WTF moments in this. Nothing made sense.

    • It definitely didn’t compare to Hitchcock but I did think it felt like the kind of film he’d have made. I did wonder about India finding the body in the freezer but I just put it down to the fact that her dark, violent side was being stirred and she was more interested and intrigued by finding the body there than anything else.

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