Stoker photo starrating-2stars.jpg“You know I’ve often wondered why it is we have children, and the conclusion I’ve come to is we want someone to get it right this time. But not me. Personally speaking, I can’t wait to watch life tear you apart.”

So says Nicole Kidman as the unbalanced Evelyn Stoker in the opening minutes in the trailer. But she doesn’t really simply SAY anything in this movie. Her affected display of high camp is full of histrionics. If it’s possible to whisper loudly, Kidman accomplishes that feat numerous times in Stoker playing the role somewhere between overwrought and mannered. She speaks in a halting tone as if Every. Word.  Is.  Its.  Own.  Sentence.  Her ridiculously over the top theatrics emphasize every declaration with an exaggerated stare or arched brow.

She‘s not alone. Kidman mourns her late husband for the duration of a funeral then immediately starts making goo-goo eyes at her brother-in-law who pops up out of thin air to stay with them. One would think in a mystery the antagonist would be ambiguous suggesting a hidden agenda. But Charlie is clearly a creep. His perverted smile is uneasy right from the start. Obsequious and insincere he exudes evil because he is evil. Mia Wasikowska is a talented young actress that usually conveys a depth beyond her 23 years. But there is no subtlety to her performance either. Here her sullen, depressed demeanor depicts a girl named Wednesday Addams…er uh I mean India Stoker. She’s particularly fond of wearing saddle shoes and dressing like someone from the early 20th century. I almost thought the film was set in that era as well, until one unnecessary line unequivocally dates the events in the modern day. Her father has died so that would account for the moodiness but her mental state goes way past that emotion to the extent where she exhibits hatred towards everyone. Do her male classmates tease her because she is mean or is she mean because they tease her? It’s never explained and the script is too shallow to even care.

One thing Stoker has going for it are the visuals. It’s technically dazzling with a true sense of style. But it’s over-stylized. Director Chan-wook Park shoots the hell out of scene to the point where the artifice become the story.  Light and shadows move when India pushes a swinging overhead lamp, a close-up of a blister oozes pus when pierced with a pin, white flowers become red when splattered with blood, a girl with 16 pairs of shoes carefully surround her as she lays on a bed.  At one juncture, Evelyn’s brushed hair morphs into the tall grass in a field where India and her father are hunting in flaskback. Is that last example a nice effect? Yes.  Does it take the place of a coherent story? Not on your life. But the tricks are not merely visual. Chan-wook Park amps up the soundtrack to 11 to heighten the sound of a spider climbing up a girl’s skirt or the cracking shell of a hardboiled egg being rolled across a table.  Scenes are self consciously arty that seem to imply a lot more than what is really going on. That’s kind of how the entire production unfolds at a lugubrious trudge. But peer beyond those luxurious velvet drapes and we’re left with the story equivalent of furniture from IKEA. That is to say it’s cheap and disposable.

Let’s not mince words. This screenplay is a rational thinker’s worst nightmare. Stoker marks the screenwriting debut of Wentworth Miller. Yes, the actor that was once the star of the television series Prison Break. India, Charlie & Evelyn – their motives are superficially justified up to a point, but no one behaves or reacts with any kind of meaning. Mia Wasikowska as India Stoker is a most confounding creature. Multiple people are killed at an alarming pace with minimal to no consequences. India is confronted with these deaths. Yet she inexplicably remains apathetic to the escalating murder rate around her. Personally I would’ve called the police if I discovered a dead body in my freezer, but hey that‘s just me. She meets a sweet boy who is the one lone classmate who shows her some respect. They tenderly make out. She violently bites his lip. Her anti-social behavior is perplexing. Then he incongruously tries to rape her. Huh?!

Many have gone so far as to say this is inspired by Hitchcock, but that is to completely disregard the director’s facility with wit, nuance and decorum. The script is pointless, classless and vulgar. Ok so those last two are the same thing, but I want to really stress that. This is about as similar to Hitchcock as Kim Kardashian is to Audrey Hepburn. If Shadow of a Doubt is the bon vivant that teaches English literature at the University level then Stoker is the drunk and disorderly younger brother (with a slavish devotion to designer labels) that didn’t finish high school. Need another example? Mia Wasikowska’s shower sequence comes to mind. No it’s not like the one in Psycho but it is memorable and not in a good way.


38 Responses to “Stoker”

  1. Wordschat Says:

    Seeing it Saturday anyway. I liked the trailers. Will answer back again later on my thoughts. Cheers

  2. As I was watching the movie, I was mesmerized by the beauty of it and was getting excited by the mystery. But I too, was confused by the story. Nothing made sense. Real people wouldn’t act that way. I was disappointed. 2 1/2 stars.

    • For a good part of the film I didn’t know what to think because they were slowly setting things up. As things progressed the “reasons” for people acting the way they were just too far fetched. I wanted a better explanation for such irrational behavior.

  3. it was the first real disappointment of the year. Stylish but the story is not as twisted as I wanted it to be. I still think it is a good film but nothing exceptional. Good review!

  4. I love your review of this one. God, was Nicole Kidman actually that bad here? I’m kind of afraid to watch this one now.

  5. Great review as always, Mark. Sad to see this didn’t live up to your expectations. Many reviews I’ve read agree with you on the writing. I’ve yet to see it but I’m really hoping I enjoy it.

    • I think if you don’t care about story or sense and just want to see a director setting up beautifully composed scenes then it could be very enjoyable. It’s very stylish.

      • Yeah, looks like this one is more style over substance. I did see that shoes-on-the-bed and thought it was a fantastic show but at the same time knew it was not a realistic for someone to arrange them in that manner and then lay down amongst the boxes, lol.

    • I know….right?! Upon reflection that is kind of odd. LOL

  6. Wordschat Says:

    Mark your review had far more logic and entertainment value than the movie. This comment is already longer than my just posted review.

    • Thanks. I really tried to examine what specifically I didn’t like about the film. Honestly right after I saw it I was kind of dumbfounded. Only after contemplating what I saw, did I truly grasp how much the film was an epic fail.

  7. I strongly disagree with you here. I didn’t feel it was too stylized to me, and i didn’t have any major problems with the story. To me it was a well directed twisted but interesting coming of age tale. sorry it didn’t work for you tho

  8. GaryLee828 Says:

    I was considering seeing this b/c of the hype, and the trailer made it look somewhat interesting, but I couldn’t shake the vibe that it was going to turn out to be lackluster. I plan to go watch Spring Breakers today and was thinking of seeing this, as well. If I do I hope I like it more than you and could offer some good debate, but I think I’ll most likely agree with you.

    • I’ll be interested to hear what you think. UK film magazine Empire gave this a perfect review so Stoker definitely has some ardent fans. Let me know what you think of Spring Breakers. I’m on the fence about seeing that.

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        Stoker was a bit dull to me for the most part, but I thought the twist at the end was pretty unexpected; so that bumps it up a bit in my book. Still nothing great, though IMO. I can’t really disagree with your review much, although I think I did like it a little more than you.

        Spring Breakers is one of those films you have to interpret for yourself. Some people think it’s absolute trash, while others think it’s genius and symbolizes more than meets the eye. I still am not really sure what to think about it to be honest. I may need to watch it again at some point, but probably not anytime in the near future. I didn’t like it, or dislike it, really. The best aspect of the film was James Franco’s performance and watching him in such a different role. I could actually see him get an Oscar nomination for supporting, mostly just b/c of the way he came out of himself so well. I am sure 2013 will find a more deserving winner, but I do think he should get a nomination. My guess is that you probably wouldn’t like the film, but if you’re on the fence I think you should check it out, if for nothing else just to watch James Franco, and see how much different he is than any other role he’s ever done.

        If I get to give you a recommendation, check out “The Hidden Face”. It’s a different and unique spanish thriller. It’s available on netflix streaming if you have that. But be sure not to watch the trailer as it gives the twist away. It’s definitely different than most other films.

    • You’ve prepared me for Spring Breakers better than any review. I suspect you are right. I won’t enjoy it, but there’s a part of me that is curious so I will check it out. I can easily picture Franco as a hardcore gangster actually. I’ve always thought that Pineapple Express was one of Franco’s greatest achievements (even better than his performance in 127 Hours). I could be wrong, but it sort of appears his role in Spring Breakers is somewhat in that realm.

      Thanks for the recommendation of The Hidden Face. I know it‘s not horror, but looking at the page, it kind of reminds me of The Orphanage and The Devil’s Backbone, both of which I LOVED. Not sure if those are accurate comparisons but you’ve got me intrigued at least, so thanks!

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        Oh, no, “Hidden Face” is nothing like The Orphanage. It’s more of a romance mystery/thriller. It’s such a great film IMO. I wrote an entry about it on my page if you want to check it out to give you an idea. I thought James Franco was great in Pineapple Express, too! He was hilarious. lol. Yeah, he’s silly like that in SB, as well, but obviously in an entirely different way. If you liked James Franco in PE then I think you will actually enjoy SB just b/c of Franco, so I would recommend you seeing it. You should do a review on SB and Hidden Face after you watch. 🙂

  9. **** SPOILERS ****

    Kidman is quite over the top in this role. When the specific moment comes in the film that you quote in your intro, I felt her demeanor was appropriate though. Her daughter was being a little shit and deserved a dose of tough love/slap in the face. I concur that there’s not much subtlety to Charlie’s creepiness. He’s clearly the bad guy. And I HATE how they go out of the way to overexplain who he is and what he’s done.

    For me India felt like a homicidal Lydia Deetz. Her violence feels like it’s for no reason, but the film really seems to hint that her murderous urges run in her blood. That’s what I believe she and her father hunted, to exorcise that aggression, almost like Dexter Morgan does with killing other serial killers. I also agree that this film can be overly stylized which feels silly in a story that’s not well-explained in most areas. I really enjoyed the piano scene and the shower scene for how fucked up they were, and I dug the bizarre visual continuity in the movie. Overall this is a case of style unfortunately trumping substance. And of course, props for your Kim Kardashian/Audrey Hepburn analogy.

    • **** SPOILERS ****

      True. By then it’s clear India is evil and Kidman’s response is warranted. It’s just delivered in extremely melodramatic fashion.

      When you say you hate how they “overexplain who [Charlie] is and what he’s done” do you mean when they delve into his childhood? I kind of appreciated that part because it somewhat justified why he became such a monster on a very superficial level.

      I love that you mention Lydia Deetz for 2 reasons. One, I admire Tim Burton. Beetlejuice is one of my favorite films. And two, I feel the characters are of similar mind. India was eccentric like Lydia, but to make the leap that she’s also a murderous sociopath needed more explanation which the film did not offer. Good reference!

      Thanks for noticing the Kardashian/Hepburn analogy. As one friend of mine joked, that was my “ pull quote.” LOL

  10. Great review and awesome site, I am now following. I just started my own film blog and would appreciate it if you could check it out. Keep up the good work!

  11. Nice review, but I think your harsh words towards Kidman in particular may be because of your unfamiliarity with Park’s style. That was never meant to be a super serious movie, so Kidman’s way of playing her character was intended.

  12. GaryLee828 Says:

    The more I absorb this movie and think about it the more it grows on me. I am starting to think this was a pretty clever film. I will eventually buy the DVD and watch it over again. It may be better the second time around.

    • Perhaps already knowing the trajectories of the various characters will make their behavior more acceptable.

      I still have no desire to re-watch this anytime soon.

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        LOL, yeah I hear you. I doubt I will watch this again anytime soon, either; maybe a couple years down the road I will buy the DVD when it’s reduced to a couple bucks. 🙂

  13. Spot on review, Mark! I saw this last night and had high hopes after seeing a few 5-star reviews from so-called professional critics. I could see what Miller and Park were maybe trying to do – attempting to find the middle ground between Terrence Malick and mainstream psychological drama, but for most of the film I was rather puzzled. I do like Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska, they are both undoubtedly fine actresses, but this smelt a little too much like Oscar bait for me.

  14. I REALLY loved this movie. So sorry you didn’t. I thought Park Chan-wook did a fantastic job with the “Dracula meets Shadow of a Doubt” story.

  15. I finally watched this tonight. For the first time in 2013, I’m honestly uncertain what I think about a movie. I don’t think I dislike it as much as you do, but I don’t love it either. A part of me would like it more, I think, if it hadn’t tried to tie things together so neatly near the end.

    I will also say I totally agree on the attempted rape scene. That was … not good.

    • Sometimes I find myself evaluating my reaction when critical opinion is much different than my own. Here I was certain. I found this movie repulsive.

      • Can’t say that I blame you, really. There is a lot here that is morally reprehensible.

        I finally put my thoughts together, and while I don’t think it repulsive, I do think it flawed. I also continue to think that rape scene awful.

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