Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman
Director: Park Chan-wook
Running Time: 99 mins
Stoker is an American film about a girl whose life is turned upside down after her father dies in an accident, and her uncle arrives at her family home and begins to take over, with her mother an emotional wreck.
Director Park Chan-wook has made some of the most deranged, exhilarating thrillers of the 21st century: Oldboy and The Handmaiden just to name a couple. But Stoker, his English-language debut, isn’t quite up to the same standard, proving a disappointingly bland and frankly unambitious thriller that’s a world away from the director’s best work.
However, I want to start by talking about a rather noticeable difference between Stoker and Park Chan-wook’s best Korean-language works: pacing. While not all of Park’s films are wall-to-wall action, there’s something clearly different about Stoker in comparison to the likes of Oldboy, as it plays at almost too slow a pace for its own good.
I understand that the objective here is to build an eerie atmosphere, particularly as the film relies heavily on the ‘stranger in town’ motif, but it makes Stoker appear more like a twee, quirky Tim Burton movie than a psychologically deranged Park Chan-wook thriller.
Of course, the violence goes some way to bringing you back on side to the film’s true colours, but it doesn’t quite do the job in really captivating your imagination in the way that Park’s very best films do. The story is unambitious for the most part, lacking the shocks of Oldboy and The Handmaiden, and as such comes off as a rather bland affair.
At the centre of the film is Mia Wasikowska, who is far from the liveliest lead, who plays alongside a less-than-intimidating Matthew Goode and a disappointingly absent Nicole Kidman. All three characters have a real, meaty complexity to them, but Stoker seems to wash over that for the sake of more generic violence and horror.
While that does mean that the movie’s most violent moments are its best, it hints at a film that feels restricted in comparison to Park Chan-wook’s typically ingenious works, with a shorter runtime that’s congested with horror, and is given very little time to flesh out characters and deeper psychological themes.
I have no idea whether Hollywood studio input stifled Park’s normal style here, but Stoker is uncharacteristically off-form for the legendary director, proving an unambitious and frankly dull watch throughout. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 6.4 overall.