Director: Park Chan-wook
Run time: 1h 38m
Park Chan-wook’s first English-language feature is a gorgeous and mesmerising gothic tale laced with coming-of-age confusion
The reason we are lucky enough to have Director Park today partly hinges on a series of Alfred Hitchcock films he watched, specifically Vertigo, that persuade the film critic to turn filmmaker.
In Park’s first outing in the parlay of his directorial influence, he produces something inspired by Hitchcock’s 1943 thriller Shadow of a Doubt.
Like many Park films, but perhaps more so than any of his other works, it does some measure of analysis to understand exactly what Park has created. On a pure enjoyment scale, it is a film that seems to be meandering through its first half. Pure Park style over that usual combination of Park substance.
However, this is an overall fate avoided by a final act to match many of Park’s previous films, as the rabbit hole we have been peering into for over an hour suddenly swallows us whole and we decent at breakneck speed.
India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) has just turned 18 and is mourning the recent passing of her affectionate father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) who died in a horrific car accident. Worsening these emotions is being left with her unstable and air-headed mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman).
At her father’s funeral she is introduced to her suave uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), her father’s brother who has spent his life traveling the world and whose existence had remained a mystery to India.
Charlie announces that he will be staying indefinitely to support India and Evelyn, but her mother’s delight is offset by India’s own anger and distrust.
As matters proceed, we begin to have reason to suspect Charlie’s character and his previous actions, as India herself grows suspicious while her own temper begins to fray at the edges.
There is a dream-like quality to Stoker, at its best memorising, but at times slightly tepid and disjointed. Fortunately, we are aided by the stunning nature of the cinematography and framing as the story slowly builds its head of steam.
Stoker is not Director Park’s best film, but in some senses it is his best directed. There are a litany of smart shots and clever set-ups. A keen photographer himself, Director Park provides endless frames that could adorn an art magazine.
Park is assisted by the vast Stoker estate and its many decadent rooms and sprawling grounds to create such shots, something he is able to revisit on the Kouzuki estate in The Handmaiden three years later.
The film also contains a truly astonishing piano scene. India is playing when Charlie joins her and the two bond over an intensifying performance where their four hands blend in the rapid movement of a single organism.
It is worth noting that Stoker does not perhaps have the same instant gratification as some of Park’s more on-the-nose work, but it lingers with you and additional depth is found in repeat viewings. Something highly recommended, if only to watch that piano scene again.
WATCH THE TRAILER: