By Jessica Delfanti | March 15, 2013
Director: Park Chan-wook
Writers: Wentworth Miller, Erin Cressida Wilson
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, David Alford, Matthew Goode, Peg Allen, Lauren Roman, Phyllis Somerville, Harmony Korine, Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich, Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney
When Park Chan-wook, Kim Ji-wood, and Bong Joon-ho decided to all transition from the South Korean market to Hollywood this year, one thing was well understood: American cinema was in for a cocktail of tension–with a twist. Now, Park Chan-wook delivers the unique Stoker, reminding American audiences that genre films don’t necessitate sacrifices in style, taste, or craft.
Famous for gritty films with sexual overtones and gleeful violence like Thirst and Oldboy, Park Chan-wook’s draws a solid if unremarkable script from Wentworth Miller into enthralling, magical life. Stoker is not wrought with gore or splashing blood, it does not contain explicit sexual violence, or torture, but it is definitively scathing and simultaneously beautiful, lightly thumbing pressure points without ever striking hard enough to knock the audience out.
The thriller follows India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), a peculiar girl with questionable supernatural abilities, capable of hearing at impossible distances, seeing incredible details. When her father (Dermot Mulroney) dies, her home descends into a tense balance, suspended between her sniveling mother (Nicole Kidman) and her Ted Bundy-charming uncle, Charles (Matthew Goode).
The film does not waste time in working up to the tone: from the first instant it is jarring, muscle-tightening tense, and heavy with silence. One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is the way that India’s special senses are invoked through cinematography and audio manipulation: certain images and sounds are given unnatural focus, and conversations bleed from scene to scene without the conventional muffling of implied distance. Through Wasikowska’s sensual acting and the isolation of specific sounds, the audience has a sense of feeling the sounds the way she might, of sound becoming tenuous, touchable.
In a way, the cinematography is the essential element of the film. The sprawling mansion that serves as a set for the majority of the film is shot in small pieces, featuring stone, polished wood, glass panes, a ragged garden. Similarly, Wasikowska is often shown in unexpected pieces: a close up of her mouth as she watches something, a shot of her dirt stained ankles, a detailed examination of the ribbons around her waist. All of this contributes to a sense of all the dirty and perfect and flawed parts coming together to form a ragged, pieced together picture that depicts something quite different than a mansion, a girl, an uncle, or a family.
Park’s cast has clearly been chosen meticulously, with great attention to their physical attributes. Both Goode and Wasikowska have strange, enormous, ethereal eyes that appear somehow altered, though it is unclear if it is via contacts or CGI. While Wasikowska gives a striking performance as the brittle but vulnerable but violent India, Goode’s sociopathic, disarming Charles carries a magnetic energy that seems to vibrate out of the screen. In turn, Kidman delves into a grittier side than standard, shelving her coquettish affect for a character that combines pathetic overexertion with a hidden, deep strength.
The combination of fantastic acting, gorgeous cinematography, and a director with a defined perspective and tonal taste creates a work that is not only more satisfying than the standard thriller, but a true delight to watch.