Movie Reviews

'Stoker' (2013) Movie Review

A gothic gone bad

Stoker movie review
Mia Wasikowska in Stoker
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Outside of an appreciation for the freeze frame nature of the picturesque visuals, there's little else to appreciate when it comes to Chan-wook Park's English-language debut, Stoker. An infatuation with the look of Stoker causes the film to suffer greatly. The unnatural mise-en-scène is so precise, it allows no room to breathe, yielding empty characters who exhibit zero evidence of humanity leaving the viewer utterly detached.

'Stoker'
Review
Grade: D+

Stoker"Stoker" is a Fox Searchlight Pictures release, directed by and is rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content.

The cast includes , , , , , and .

For more information on this film including pictures, trailers and a detailed synopsis .

India Stoker, played by Mia Wasikowska in an erect, detached-from-the-world manner, has just lost her father. She has no friends and is teased at school. You'd think a comparison to Brian De Palma's Carrie would be apt, but this film isn't operating on the same brain waves. Instead, India may as well be a cyborg with manufactured feelings, telegraphed at every turn. And while grief stricken over the loss of her father, we're never allowed to feel the weight of that reality. We aren't welcomed into that world and even when it would appear an invite is being extended, the scenes are so abstract and vacant we walk away feeling nothing.

At home India doesn't get along with her mother (Nicole Kidman), and perhaps never did. Their relationship is strained from the start and things don't get any better when the uncle she never knew she had moves in for a spell.

Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) is far from normal. Any reasonable person would raise an eyebrow at this guy the minute he opens his mouth or after ten seconds of him staring at you with those empty eyes and smug grin. India, as I've implied, is far from normal and her mother is too busy chugging wine to notice and has even taken to creating something of an inappropriate relationship with her brother-in-law. Their grief, of course, opens the door to this kind of behavior, but at some point natural instinct has got to come into play. We aren't lead to believe these people are idiots after all.

So Charlie sticks around, India mopes and mommy is stuck in the middle within conversations that turn down strange alleyways. Charlie makes dinners he never eats (and yet always makes himself a plate) and the housemaid has gone missing. Oh my, whatever could be going on? Where did this Charlie guy come from anyway? Europe you say? And why didn't India know anything about his existence until now?

Stoker would play better silently on a wall in a museum where patrons could glimpse a couple minutes or so as they passed by. Seen out of context the story would be far more intriguing than it is here and perhaps even the shower masturbation scene could give some art community snobs something to dissect for five minutes before adjusting their monocles.

The only character that exhibits any evidence of humanity is Kidman's. She's lost and yet trying to figure things out. Some may argue India's reaction to her father's death is a natural and human reaction. That I'm not arguing. There is an intensity and consternation to India, but the artificiality of the world surrounding her every move takes away from any authenticity her performance may otherwise earn. Kidman, at least, breaks free from the plastic-wrapped world around her, be it because that's how her character was written or how she chose to play it, either way, there she is.

Goode's Uncle Charlie (a name I can't stand) is no different than India, only the intrigue surrounding him is meant to be the mystery of Who is he? Too bad the cat is out of the bag within the first few minutes as he stands off at a distance during his brother's funeral and then asks to stay with the family as if he needs the requisite invitation to cross the threshold. No, don't think the vampire angle is lost on this film. After all the family name is Stoker.

The screenplay is from Wentworth Miller ("Prison Break"), but I can't tell if this film plays out how he wrote it or if Park took so many liberties with its tone and how the characters should be played that very little of Miller's original vision remains.

I did, however, write down one line of dialogue I really liked: "We are not responsible for what we come to be." There's a lot to unpack from that line and in a better movie it would have been fun to do so. Stoker is so blatant there's nothing to consider by the film's end.

I'd like to use that line to find some excuse for where this film went off the rails, but that would only serve to offer an out. Park is responsible for what this film came to be and for as nuanced as you'd think an art piece such as this would be, it's a blinding bat to the cranium of predictability and boredom. Story is sacrificed for style, something Park avoided with films like Oldboy and even Thirst. Something may have been lost in translation or perhaps this is exactly what was intended, either way, it didn't work.

GRADE: D+
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  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

    Yep, this looked pretty bad. Don't understand why this Chan-wook Park guy is held in high regard.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Xarnis/ Xarnis

      Oldboy is great, but his other films haven't been anything special. I too find him overrated.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

        Didn't like Oldboy.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Xarnis/ Xarnis

          Yeah, then you're definitely not going like any of this guy's other films.

          • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

            There's just something about Asian cinema that turns me off. There always seems to be an over-emphasis on either gratuitous violence/gore or sentimentality.

            • Yaz

              I agree with the second part of your statement - the first is opinion, and so I respect that. I think what appeals to me most about Asian cinema, as well as foreign cinema in general, is that it often offers something quite different from the standard conventions of the Western narrative. The rest, I suppose, all depends on your taste.

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Xarnis/ Xarnis

              I agree as well, but I found Oldboy's premise very intriguing.

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

              Stoker's problem isn't violence, though it is a dark film, it's just style over substance and in past works, Oldboy especially, I don't think Park had that issue, instead the style seemed to serve the story.

              • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

                All right, so here's a question:

                If you initially praise a director for using style to advance the story in one film, and then all or most of their follow-up films are so stylized that they bereft of meaning, do you then go back and reassess that first film? Does it then become a "emperor wears no clothes" situation?

              • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

                Perhaps in some cases, I wouldn't say so here. I just consider this a misfire.

            • http://mulhollandcinelog.wordpress.com/ Gustavo H. Razera

              You write as if all of Asian cinema (which includes Japan, China, India and Russia, among others) is reductible to Chan-wook's aesthetics and themes.

              It is not a very intelligent way of thinking.

              • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

                That's not what I meant.

                First off, perhaps I should have been a bit more specific than just "Asian." I was talking specifically about China, Japan and South Korea.

                I was not implying that EVERY SINGLE ASIAN FILM focuses solely on violence or sentimentality. I just meant that of the Asian films I've seen (whether we're talking about Park, Jee-woon Kim, Ang Lee, Takashi Miike, Wayne Wang, Kar Wai Wong, etc.) there does seem to be an emphasis on those themes. That's all.

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Satish/ Satish

              There is Jia Zhangke. There is Tsai Ming Liang. There is Apichatpong. I wonder how much "violence and gore" you'll find there. AS, you're speaking out of a very small sample. Your statement about Asian cinema is much like saying I hate all of Hollywood because of so much action in them..

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/HelloKitty/ Hello Kitty

    The trailer didn't give me any incentive to see the movie, so I'm not surprised by your review. I am puzzled by the choices Chan-wook Park and Jee-woon Kim have made for their English language debuts, though. Were these films the only options available to them? Hard to believe that they weren't given carte blanche and allowed to use their creativity anyway they saw fit.

  • Good Grief

    "Oldboy" is in my top five movies of all time. Probably top three, in fact. I also enjoyed "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance."
    However, "Thirst" and "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" felt drab an uninteresting. I was hoping "Stoker" would be more along the lines of the films of his that I love and I'm disappointed reading this review.
    I'll still give it a watch but the whole style over substance thing doesn't exactly excite me.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Xarnis/ Xarnis

    I hoped this would be good.

    • Yaz

      It might still be. Have you seen it?

  • adu

    That's unfortunate...I am still quite intrigued by the potential for this one.

  • Winchester

    I'm planning on checking it out next week. I guess I'll take it as I find it.

  • Yaz

    Still excited to see it despite the grade. Heard some very positive reviews. Looking forward to it.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/maja/ maja

    Man, this is really disappointing. This was my most anticipated movie in the last couple of months (Side Effects not out here until next week) and i was planning on seeing it on Sunday. I will definitely still check this out with lowered expectations. Film.com gave it a B+ so hopefully with lowered expectations i will enjoy it more.

  • http://kaisaccofilm.tumblr.com/ Kai Sacco

    I'm surprised you disliked it that much Brad. I really enjoyed it.

  • Beautifulm

    I think I enjoyed it a bit more than Brad, but I have to agree with him. It was mostly style over substance. It was also a bit dull.

  • Dale

    I just saw this and it bored me to death. It was very stylish looking but seemed to play in slow motion. I'm not familiar with this director's other work, but this film doesn't make me want to check it out.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Don't dismiss him that quickly, explore the Vengeance trilogy beginning with Oldboy and then I'd say Lady Vengeance and see what you think.

  • http://www.digitalkebab.com Shaun Heenan

    Man, Brad. You've had a rough start to the year. Is Side Effects the only positive review in the last two months?

    • Jake17

      He gave Beautiful Creatures a B-.

  • Liam Fogarty

    I know where you're coming from, the story is very flimsy, but the film is just fun, the atmosphere is fantastic, the pacing is fact, the camerawork is sublime and it's just a damn good time trying to work out/make up meanings out of the imagery.

  • Dale

    OK, Brad, I'll check out "Oldboy" and see what happens.

  • Jake17

    This is very disappointing. I'll probably still see it, but I'm not expecting much now.

  • james

    @AS

    I don't think it's fair to right off the whole Asian Cinema just because of a few directors. And this is a American film directed by an Asian director so... what are you really trying to say??? "Don't understand why this Chan wook Park guy is held in high regard." Chan Wook Park is held in high regards in Asia and in Europe, he is a very influential director, and he has a very impressive filmography so... there you go. Some respect please... "this Chan wool Park guy" like he isn't a person, I mean, good grief it's the man's name... ugh....

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

      But you didn't actually explain what it is about his films that people love so much. You just restated that he is, in fact, renowned. Why is his filmography impressive? Why is he an influential director?

      • james

        @ AS

        Chan Wook Park is an auteur he single handily brung back the movie industry in South Korea, so is that something to..... disregard or not to be impress??? His movies are the highest grossing movies in South Korea. He is influential to one of your favorite director Mr. QT who is a huge admirer and fan of his movies also putting JSA as one of the best movies since his debut in 1992. And as a huge cinephile like you I'd thought you'd be a little bit more appreciative of all Cinema regardless of being Asia or whatever at least finding something to your liking in "Asia Cinema" rather than writing off all Asia Cinema because come on let's be frank it's a bit pretentious isn't it. I am not a huge Stanley Kubrick fan but would I go and say "what's up with this Kubrick guy, man, can someone in this green earth tell me how is he held in high regards?" No, because even though I don't like his movies I respect him as a filmmaker and his contribution to movies. So, like I say some respect please. Here's a link to further your cinephile mind about Mr. Chan Wook Park:

        en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Park_Chan-wook

        blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2013/03/03/park-chan-wook-on-stoker-and-spike-lees-oldboy/

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

          Thank you for providing some background. I do appreciate it.

          As far as Park influencing Quentin Tarantino; that actually doesn't surprise me (because as much as I love QT's film, I've never understood his taste in movies).

          "And as a huge cinephile like you I'd thought you'd be a little bit more appreciative of all Cinema regardless of being Asia or whatever at least finding something to your liking in "Asia Cinema" rather than writing off all Asia Cinema because come on let's be frank it's a bit pretentious isn't it."

          - While I do love movies, I'd hardly say I'm an authority on all-things film. I wasn't trying to "write off Asian cinema." I was just being honest about my experiences watching Asian films. From the limited number of Asian films I've seen, there does appear to be a preoccupation with gore or sentimentality. That's just my observation. Am I not allowed to have my own personal taste? Not everything is for everyone. And I resent the implication that just because I don't personally care for Asian cinema, I'm somehow "pretentious." When I say that I haven't been impressed by the Asian films I've seen, that doesn't mean that I don't think Asian filmmakers are talented. Every region produces films that have a very unique and specific perspective. Some people don't care for German cinema or Swedish cinema or American cinema. That's fine with me. I would never condemn anyone because they don't happen to relate to a certain perspective.

          "No, because even though I don't like his movies I respect him as a filmmaker and his contribution to movies."

          - Well that's fine, but you're mistaken if you think I'd criticize you for not "respecting" Stanley Kubrick. If you didn't like Kubrick and you thought he was talentless, that's perfectly fine with me. I might disagree with you, but I'd never demand that you "respect" him. For instance, people go on and on about Fellini and I can't stand his films. I do not respect him and I'd resent anyone who would try to force me to. This goes both ways.

          • james

            @AS

            You wasn't writing off all Asian Cinema? But when you say "There's just something about Asian cinema that turns me off. There always seems to be an over-emphasis on either gratuitous violence/gore or sentimentality." Asian Cinema, okay, Asia is a big big country to say that all Asian movies are like this... that's not being pretentious??? "And I resent the implication that just because I don't personally care for Asian cinema, I'm somehow "pretentious."' Oh, so, it not pretentious when you label Asian Cinema as being all gore and sentimental. Just because of a few directors they represent all Asian Cinema right? Not pretentious? You say this as if your shit don't stink. I mean, come on, that's a bold statement. "that doesn' t mean that I don't think Asian filmmakers are talented" Obviously you don't when you say things like this "Don't understand why this Chan-wook Park guy is held in high regard." "this Chan wook-Park guy" and you say this as if he isn't a person. Obviously he isn't talented enough to be presented as a person. Yeah, you don't like his movies so that gives you the right to disregard and disrespect the man's name? You see what I'm saying... not pretentious? Like I said this is a American movie directed by an Asian director so what are you really trying to say??? He sucks so of course this movie is going to suck is the vibe I'm getting from you. "I'd never demand that you "respect" him." Right, I don't respect Kubrick's movies but respect his contribution as a filmmaker and to movies, understood?

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

              Jarrod, screwing up the grammar of your comment isn't fooling anyone; especially when you fluctuate between terrible grammar and correct grammar. You must remain consistent if you want to pass yourself off as YET ANOTHER person.

              It was the "You say this as if your shit don't stink" line that gave you away. That, and your intimate knowledge of my fondness for Stanley Kubrick & Quentin Tarantino. But I do encourage you to try harder next time.

              But let's #GetSerious for moment. All bullshit aside. Is your only goal in life to "take AS to task for every comment he makes"? Jarrod, you have a serious problem. You must develop other interests to occupy your time. Even if you think I'm the most vile human being since Hitler, I'm just an anonymous internet commenter. You care WAY too much. Not to use a tired cliche, but get a life. You and I both know that in 3 months, 6 months, a year... however long it takes; you'll lose interest and go off to some other site to troll. So please, cut to the chase and stop wasting everyone's time.

  • Daniel T.

    Has everyone forgotten that Park directed Joint Security Area? Sure, it's his first film but it is also his least stylish and one of his most character and story driven.

  • james

    Lol... I didn't know this was English class. I'm so so very very sorry give me a F now.... Of course I need someone like you to put me straight. Oh, I didn't know that I'd label you as "the most vile human being since Hitler, I'm just an anonymous internet commenter." Yeah, me too, I'm just another anonymous internet commenter like you. I didn't know that I, too, am not able to say as I wish. I am awfully sorry... Ugh... You say these things like you're a higher intellect, but when someone calls you on it you get angry? So when you say things like "Yep, this looked pretty bad. Don't understand why this Chan-wook Park guy is held in high regard." And " There's just something about Asian cinema that turns me off. There always seems to be an over-emphasis on either gratuitous violence/ gore or sentimentality." Oh, so you're not trying to evoke a response??? Right? You're just talking aloud... Oh, my lord, I am in the wrong. You talk like you are so kind of intellect on this site, so I suspect you'd be a little my appreciative of all contribution to filmmaking... I didn't know I was wasting your time. I wanted you explain yourself. I want to why you feel that way. I didn't know I was wasting your time. Good grief allow me to apologize..... but you're not in the wrong? You won't apologize for some of the outlandish things you've said on this site. Uh, didn't you have problems with Argo being racist to the Iranians? You talked a good game about that movie being racist but yet you'll disrespect or make fun of Chan Wook-Park's name... or say it as if he's some kind of disease that says plenty, anonymous commenter. I didn't know I was trolling around..... So, please don't play victim.....

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

      You're pathological.

      • james

        @AS

        You're simplistic... What's the saying you use, uh....tough but fair.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

          Well, that's really Laremy' s saying.

          • james

            @AS

            Well, either way my dearest of dearest compadre..... what's the saying you use, uh....tough but fair.... Crushed it for ya???

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

              Not quite.

              • james

                @AS

                Tough but fair....

              • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

                Meh.

              • james

                @AS

                What's another saying you use, uh.....interesting.

              • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

                Not so much a saying, more of a word really.

              • james

                @AS

                Tough.... but fair....

  • Yaz

    As much as I had wanted to go into Stoker liking it, I came out of the theatre rather disappointed. I think 'misfire' is an accurate word in describing the film. I was skeptical of the review/grade at first, likely not wanting to believe, but I have to agree with Brad on this one... Stoker is just - underwhelming... And considering the talent involved and the obvious creativity behind it, it's sad and disappointing.

    I found nothing about the film to be particularly engaging or enticing... Boring would be adequate word for it. There were things there, in place, but none of these were capitalized on... It was all just, rather dull and uninteresting for the majority of it. Even things like tension and the execution of it, were just lacking here. It's all a bit sad and definitely a missed opportunity for Chan-wook Park.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kathrynlynn/ kathrynlynn

    I just got around to seeing this- its difficult to connect with a film like this, or really care about any of the characters when all of them are so detached in the story. If Wasikowska had felt just an ounce real- or even the uncle... i think I would have liked the story more. But with both of those main characters looking so blank the whole time, I could care less about the story. It just needed some balance- like in the film "We Need to Talk About Kevin" ... you have a psychopathic character who is balanced out by someone for us to relate to.

    Maybe that isn't a fair comparison, i understand that the stories were different. My point being I just needed an angle to care about ... and I simply didn't have it here.

  • Juan Miguel Lsc

    "The only character that exhibits any evidence of humanity". Wow, ignorance is a bliss