Stoker Review

Stoker UK Quad poster

To most casual movie-going audiences, the name Park Chan-wook may not garner recognition. To the initiated, they will know Park Chan-wook as the director of the Vengeance Trilogy, a collection of three movies of similar themes Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.

Oldboy is probably the most well known of the three, a film loosely based on the manga of the same name that is a masterpiece of Korean cinema. More recently, an American remake has been in production, with Spike Lee to direct Josh Brolin.

Oldboy is not the only thing to cross into the English language. Park Chan-wook himself has made his first venture into directing an English-speaking feature with Stoker, a psychological thriller with themes and narrative perfectly suited for Park Chan-wook. But does he translate well to directing our western stars?


Probably better than most western directors.

Stoker stars Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman. A dark tale, it opens on the 18th birthday of Wasikowska’s character India, swiftly marred by the tragedy of her father’s death. 

Stoker (Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska)Living with her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), the two of them are soon greeted by India’s distant uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode). Charlie is a very charismatic but enigmatic man, who slowly comes to win over Evelyn and eventually India. But of course, something is not quite right…

Despite the title instantly throwing connotations to Dracula and Bram Stoker, this movie is no such tale. There are no vampires, but the story is very harsh and dark and grounded. There is horror, there is humanity, and the former thrives from the latter. Endlessly gripping, the film feels much longer than its 99 minute run time, but that is far from a bad thing. You’d wish that you get to see more.

Not just to see the narrative play, but to see it. Stoker is a work of cinematic art. The entire package is wonderful, and the technical construction shines. It is visually stunning, offering camera angles that are much more inspired than generic. There are close-ups, but they linger just a little lower on the eyes, or some from a different location than expected. Shots are sustained, sometimes at great distance, sometimes close and intimate.

The editing flows wonderfully. A dissolve will instantly flow into another shot; a character will walk down one path that blends into another. Conversations are cut perfectly, switching up angles that speak so much without the dialogue saying anything at all. You can see the conflict, the relationships, the time, the space, and you don’t need any other information. The editing tells the story. Sometimes out of order to catch us up, stretching out a scene that evolves from one beat to another, evolving alongside the story.

Some of the sound is brilliant. Certain sounds are exaggerated, like the rolling of a deviled egg, or the sharpening of a pencil. Music plays a strong part in the film, and there are scenes involving the family’s piano that ties together all the pieces to create a powerful scene. The visuals, the editing, the sound, the music, the acting, there are many a sequence where everything is at the perfect pitch, creating a beautiful cinematic symphony.

It is curious to find such a dark psychological thriller so beautiful, but Park Chan-wook brings a certain grace to proceedings. Not to mention the spectacular cast, where Wasikowska shines as her character comes to age, maturing while both intrigued and intimidated by Goode’s Charlie. 

Stoker (Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska)Goode plays a brilliant role here, playing his turn rather subtle, exuding the idea of the charismatic debonair with something sinister hidden behind the smile. We know that Charlie isn’t exactly what he seems, and yet we are intrigued by him, how he can be so calm, cool and charming even long after we see the turning point.

Several beats may be a bit obvious and cliché, but that doesn’t detract at all from the film. The construction of the film turns those moments on their head, approaching them in a different way, making art of the worn-down path.

Park Chan-wook has certainly made the jump to English language cinema well. Stoker is a film that stands out amongst most other movies of the moment and of the genre. It’s a masterclass in cinematography, sound and editing – conducting a gripping recital of the psychological, psychosexual thriller. It is a slice of Hitchcock, and Park Chan-wook is certainly welcome to give us more of this in western cinema. 

We need more Park Chan-wook. We need to see more magnificent engaging tension and exploration of the human condition in modern film. We are lost in a sea of remakes, adaptations and blockbusters. Park Chan-wook could help us find land.

Stoker is out now in cinemas. It stars Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman. The film is written by Wentworth Miller (under the pseudonym Ted Foulke), and Park Chan-wook directs.

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