Does the name Park Chan-Wook ring a bell? If not, allow me to educate you all today. He's a South Korean filmmaker famous for directing the original "Oldboy." A movie I have discussed a number of times already on this blog, and is getting the American treatment this October. Along with "Oldboy" he has made a number of films in South Korea, and he is one of the most acclaimed and popular filmmakers in that nation. And now, he has made an astounding debut in the United States of America.
His first American film is called "Stoker," starring Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Jackie Weaver, and Dermot Mulroney. For those that know Chan-Wook well, you are probably expecting an extremely violent shockfest. Well that is not "Stoker," not exactly. "Stoker" has a lot more in common with early Alfred Hitcock than with anything affiliated with Chan-Wook's Korean career. I think its a great introduction for Chan-Wook with American audiences, however I am not sure if the film is flawless.
The film revolves around the estranged Stoker family, mainly India Stoker (Wasikowska). India is deeply effected by the sudden death of her father (Mulroney), but it has brought her and her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) closer together. All of that is somewhat challenged when India's Uncle Charlie (Goode) comes to live with them a for awhile, helping the family mourn their loved one and keeping them company. Right away, the audience will notice something off about Uncle Charlie. India is, at the very least, curious to why Uncle Charlie has decided to bond with his niece after being absent for so long. India suspects Uncle Charlie has ulterior motives for coming to the family, but she can't figure them out. And she also can't help but be drawn to him in a mysterious way.
India is a shy loner, who is often ridiculed by her peers at school. She was incredibly close to her father and she has been taking his death very hard. When her and Uncle Charlie slowly but surely begin to bond, she finds a new found confidence that is very edgy. This film is a wonderful showcase for Wasikowska, an actress I've admired since I saw her in 2010's "The Kids Are All Right." She gives a mesmerizing performance and its definitely the highlight of the film. Nicole Kidman gives a delightful and unstable performance as Evelyn Stoker, who also becomes infatuated with Uncle Charlie. Matthew Goode is an actor I've enjoyed for awhile now and I couldn't believe how much his character shocked me in this film.
The performances are solid. If you are at all familiar with Chan-Wook work, you know things always get crazy. That is no different with "Stoker," things get very ugly very fast when the truth about Charlie is revealed. Chan-Wook doesn't shy away from the shock. There is a scene involving India in the shower that is so disturbing it made me cringe. But there in also lies my biggest problem with the film, by the end it feels like the movie shifts from crazy to conventional Hollywood. That shift left me a little on the disappointed side. Plus, near the end, it seems like Chan-Wook still wanted to wow us with his old tricks. Blending those tricks with typical Hollywood banter left the ending kind of a mess in my eyes.
Overall, this is a stylish, good little thriller. I think you all will be impressed by the film's many performances, even to the smallest amount. Lucas Till even shows up as a bully and he makes it count. The performances and Chan-Wook's style carry the film a long way. However, those of you who were expecting a crazy, visceral experience should be warned to drop those expectations. This is definitely not typical Chan-Wook, but its a great start for American viewers. I think once Park Chan-Wook finally makes his American masterpiece, myself and my countrymen will be flattened by it.
FINAL GRADE: B