Friday, 8 March 2013

Film Review: Stoker

Director: Chan-wook Park
Writer: Wentworth Miller
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode

The English debut feature from Oldboy director Chan-wook Park has a lot going for it as far a style and technique is concerned, but this cast and crew deserve a better film to showcase their talents than the film Stoker ultimately ends up being.

In fact there is so much to recommend in Stoker to anyone who appreciates and revels in watching a director tell their story, the film is a minor masterpiece of independent film making during its first hour. The story is so dark, tense, and saturated in repressed sexual desires and sexual awakenings that the audiences has no idea where the film will take them or what the motivations are for any of these lonely characters to be with each other. We just know that something isn’t right when the uncle of India Stoker comes to live with her and her mother just after her father’s funeral.

During this first hour, Park shows off a perfectly controlled display of a static and moving camera, off-centre framing and empty spaces, and unsettlingly shots of everyday activities; when has putting ice cream in a freezer looked as eerie as it does here? Park, unlike so many directors making American films, doesn’t copy any style to make his film seem familiar to his audience (slow mo, shaky camera, sweeping aerial shots) but does draw attention to the fact that his camera movement is purposeful but never careless. It’s a joy to watch this man direct because he really knows how to tell a story through the camera.

The dialogue is playful and dangerous, often alluding to a sexual desire or foreboding actions and is delivered by the excellent cast without it ever coming across as unnatural or uncharacteristic of whoever is speaking. This is, until the final third when, like so many films which leave the audience in the dark for so long, the eventual exposition comes flooding through and drowns out the tightly wound film it had become. Whilst maintaining a spoiler-free review, what was once a story told through dark, gothic visuals becomes an exercise in cramming in as much backstory and flashbacks as possible to make sense of what’s come before; the pace changes, the visuals become clich├ęd (spurting red blood on white flowers, reflections in Aviator sunglasses) and the film loses credibility in favour for a shock ending which it simply doesn’t need.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: Stoker is a good dry run for Park’s career in American cinema and he’s showed what he can do with a western cast and setting, and has chosen a superb set of actors to help him realise his obvious technical prowess for this story. There is a lot of good in this film and you can just enjoy the beauty of a good director at work, but anyone expecting a story of equal enjoyment will be slightly disappointed at the end.

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