Stoker ★★★½

This is a stand-out film for many reasons, even with its faults, and almost all of those reasons have everything to do with the directing talents of Chan-wook Park. Park’s vision and style infuse every frame and edit. I’ll be honest that I don’t know much about Korean cinema apart from the handful of films I’ve seen (The Host and Oldboy come immediately to mind), but Park clearly demonstrates that his understanding of how a film can be constructed is vastly different from the way North American audiences are used to seeing films presented. His choices are deliberate, controlled, and create an intensely intimate relationship with subject and scene. And the strength of the film’s technical and creative presentation vastly outweigh the problems of its script.

Stoker’s cinematography, composition and non-linear - even fragmented - approach to telling an otherwise linear story all create a lyrical experience that drifts effortlessly between poetic surrealism and brutal realism. It’s a hard film to pin down into a genre, but you could do worse than to call it a thriller. But classifications seem unnecessary here.

The weaknesses of the film are in its script and the characters it attempts to breathe life into. Stoker presents many of its core characters as mysterious entities, behaving less like real humans do and more like theatrical representations of them. But when many of the supporting cast, including India's (Mia Wasikowska) father, aunt, her familial caretaker and the county sheriff, all behave more like real people it makes for a very odd disconnect stylistically. Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman and Wasikowska all play their parts remarkably well, but these characters feel out-of-sync with the other characters of the film.

The film’s narrative is an incredibly interesting arc. It’ll give you the creeps, in more ways that one. But while the ominous Uncle Charlie’s motivations become readily apparent with shocking clarity as we approach the end of the film, our protagonist’s motivations never really materialize. And that’s why the film isn’t able to deliver a poignant punch. It’s not just that India’s motives and actions are up for interpretation (they may very well be), but that they seem at best unresolved or at worst ill-considered. The film continually hints at her unique abilities, but in the end we’re left asking of the film, “that’s what we were building towards?”

Do see this for Park’s incredible control of the film’s vision, for that alone it’s a more than worthwhile watch.

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