Review: Stoker


Stoker - Credit: Archant

Hollywood has a coping mechanism for when some distant foreign land produces a phalanx of movie-making talent – it gives them jobs. In recent weeks, we have seen its first attempts at taking the wind out of the sails of the surge of Korean movie talent.

The director of the wonderful Treeless Mountain got to make a Paul Dano road movie, while the director of The Good, The Bad and the Weird and I Saw The Devil was entrusted with the Arnie comeback flick. The trick is persuading them these jobs are a privilege.

This, though, is the western debut of Oldboy director Park Chan-wook, the original Korean breakout success story who has been floundering ever since Lady Vengeance.

His own recent ideas have been pretty dim (I'm A Cyborg, Thirst) and he has pursued them to their dim destinations. Now he has been given someone else's dim idea, a southern Gothic fairy tale written by Wentworth Miller (the man who penned TV's Prison Break) and has polished it into something very acceptable.

At her funeral of her father, the withdrawn and studious India (Mia Wasikowska) is shocked by the appearance of a previously unheard of uncle (Matthew Goode). Though Goode is like a Belisha beacon emitting smarmy menace, floozy widow Nicole Kidman invites him to stay and dark family secrets are revealed.

It's hand-me-down stuff: the family live in a property that's like a Grand Designs version of the Beetlejuice house; the plot is advanced by overheard dialogue from serving staff and a party guest; Wasikowska is dressed up like a puritan frontier girl.

Park, aided by his long-term cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, gives it the works, meshing the story with elaborate colour designs and visual schemes.

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Blood is always the perfect shade of red to set off the wallpaper it is splashed across and his visual flourishes are an exact degree short of preposterous to best serve the story.

Unfortunately, he can't quite marshal the same level of control over his actors. Wasikowska is great in the title role, but this kind of smarmy menace comes too easy for Goode. Kidman can usually reach an accommodation between her celebrity and her acting talent, but here she is solely celebrity. Even in this heightened reality, she looks odd – like a female Nicolas Cage.


Director: Park Chan-wook

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Jacki Weaver, Dermut Mulroney and Ralph Brown

Length: 97 mins