Stoker (2013)

Family is weird.

India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is a young girl who suspects her mysterious uncle (Matthew Goode) is up to some sheisty-dealings after he comes to live with her emotionally unstable mother (Nicole Kidman) following the death of her father (Dermot Mulroney). But instead of feeling outrage or horror, this friendless girl becomes increasingly infatuated with him.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the main hype for this movie is surrounding the fact that this is South Korea’s Park Chan-wook (Oldboy), making his American feature-film debut and shows something to all of the other foreign directors that seemed to get thrown into the mix when they have to take crap material in the states. It seems to happen to every foreign-language director who makes a splash elsewhere, but Chan-wook is different. This is his film all the way through, and it’s usually for better, and for worse. Depending on the type of person you really are and what you like. Me, I’m still on the fence.

What makes this movie work is that it does have a very, very mysterious atmosphere and tone about it to where you have no idea what’s going, and exactly who’s behind all of these weird shenanigans that have been going on. From the get-go, it’s pretty obvious that not everything is as it seems to be, but that didn’t matter because it’s more deliberately-used, as Chan-wook allows his flick to build up more steam and tension as it goes along. For me, I always thought I knew where this story was going, how, and what they were going to reveal to me next, but that’s only because I’ve seen a shit-ton of movies. This movie actually surprised me when it was able to take leaps of death that I wasn’t in the least-bit expecting, and I have to give Chan-wook a bunch of credit for that, because it’s something that some of our finest, working-directors in America still don’t have the courage to pull-off just yet. Not saying that he’s better than anybody, just saying that the guy is able to show the brass balls he hides within. Or underneath his pants, physically too. Either way, the guy’s got guts.

"Ladies, I'm ready to fuck. Sort of."
“Ladies, I’m ready to fuck. Sort of.”

Chan-wook also does a great job in keeping this flick so damn interesting, and not just by the story; but by the visuals. Every shot in this movie feels like it could be paused, taken-out, and displayed on a coffee table in some shop or some person’s house, and have everybody who picks it up, staring and gazing at it for day’s on end. Chan-wook not only gives this flick a plethora of beautiful colors to keep your eyes on-screen, but shows us some nice, visual-treats that he takes out of his goodie-bag. Certain scenes loom really cool, other scenes, just look very artsy-fartsy. But regardless of what you may deem them as, you still cannot deny that this flick is always interesting and always intriguing to watch, and if not for the story, then to see what Chan-wook can have our eyes feast on next. Trust me, you’ll see.

But something just didn’t feel all that right with this movie and I think I have my finger on what it was: it’s tone. See, this is one of those flicks where everything is dramatic, everything is eerie, and everything and everybody feel like they’re just being loopy, just for the sake to move the story along. Now, I know this type of story-telling does very, very well in the foreign countries, but in the states, it feels weird. For instance, there’s a bunch of staring and awkward-grinning between a bunch of characters that could be deemed as creepy and horrific in some, other countries because there’s a certain “art-essence” to it, but here, in the states, it just feels over-the-top.

In most cases, I was able to drop this idea from my head and just focus on the story and whether or not it I was interested, but other times it just felt like it tried too hard. Whether or not Chan-wook meant for that to happen, or that’s just his way of filming, is all beyond me. But watching this flick, you’ll almost feel like it’s parody at points, where people are just giving each other looks that the Dramatic Squirrel has been doing for a whole decade. Okay, you’re right. I’m sorry for putting this movie and that celebrity in the same sentence. He really is THAT COOL.

Where this film really counts, is in it’s cast who all do fine-as-hell jobs with all of the weird-shite that they are given. And yes, that does mean a lot for this movie. Mia Wasikowska always shows up in a whole bunch of movies that I actually get the privilege to see, and so far, she’s never done anything to really impress me. Sure, she’s cute and she has the promise to be the next, Amy Adams-type of gal, but so far, I haven’t seen anything from her that really had me calling till the cows came home. She’s always come off as sort of bland and dull, and never seems like she wants to liven-up the material and allows everybody else to do otherwise. Her performance as India marks the change in my perception of this gal. I’m sorry, Mia. You have my respects.

"I spy, with my little eye, a copy of Burton's Alice in Wonderland."
“I spy, with my little eye, a copy of Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.”

Wasikowska is awesome as India because she has to do a lot of strange brooding and stares to enhance her character and the type of mood she sends off to the others around her, but that’s something she’s very good at. She feels like a natural at just being weird outcast, but also the look and feel of a gal you do not want to fuck with, especially if she has a sharpened-pencil in her hand. A lot of the scenes where she is just standing there, silent, and not saying much, still compelled me, because I always felt like there was more to this character than she was letting on and what would you know it: I was right! Wasikowska definitely stole the show in this movie for me, and hopefully won’t let me down with whatever she’s got piled-up next.

Matthew Goode is also amazing as her strange-o uncle, Charlie, who has never been mentioned or seen, until now. Goode is good (teehee) at playing-up the whole suave look and easy charm that all of the characters in his movies display so well and it adds another level of weirdness to a character, that we already know we can’t trust. He’s not the type of guy you want on your side, but you start to realize that maybe, just maybe, he isn’t as bad as they make him out to be. Just a bit fucked-up in the head. Whether or not you are able to go along with that aspect with that character is totally up to you, but I like how Chan-wook showed me more to a character that wasn’t just all about being odd, but sexy at the same time. Ladies, get ready to double-bag the panties for this one. You’re gonna need ’em for Mr. Goode. Aw yeah.

The biggest disappointment of this whole movie is probably watching Nicole Kidman play second-fiddle to not just these characters, but this story as well. Don’t get me wrong, Kidman is good as India’s mom and chews a bit of scenery when she gets the chance to, but there isn’t much else to her and sort of comes of like a total bimbo, in the grander scheme of things. You never get the full feel or essence that she was ever a nice lady beforehand, and you never get it after the movie, so why the hell do we need Kidman in the first-place? I’ll tell ya why: she’s a big name, she’s a good actress, and she may attract some people to see it where names like “Goode” and “Wasikowska” won’t. Sorry, peeps. But it’s the hard-to-honest truth. Same goes to Jacki Weaver. Why the hell was she even here?

Consensus: Certain parts work and others parts don’t, but no matter what, Stoker is at least a fun, interesting, and always-vibrant English-language debut from Park Chan-wook who shows us that he definitely has some of getting used-to with the way we handle business in the states, but still isn’t a person I have to worry about lowering my expectations for any time soon.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Dramatic Squirrel ain't got shit on me."
“Dramatic Squirrel ain’t got shit on me.”


  1. I think you’re right to point out the issue with the tone of the film. I liked the visuals, but thought it was just a little too weird to work well. Or maybe not quite weird enough? I enjoyed reading your review.

    • I always knew something wasn’t right, but after awhile, it does get a bit obvious and makes you feel like it needs to go somewhere, and soon. Thanks!

  2. Good review Dan. It is definitely an enjoyable and stylish thriller however after all the hype that surrounded it I was a bit disappointed. I thought it was gonna be one of the best film of the year. Still great fun though and worth checking it out.

  3. Awesome review Dan! TO be honest I haven’t really seen this movie yet because I couldn’t find anyone to watch it with me (I have boring friends, yeah?) but I’ve been itching to watch this for a long time already! Kinda funny though because even though I haven’t seen this one yet, you’re review kinda meets what I’m expecting from the movie.

  4. I was greatly disappointed by Stoker. It looked good, but the story made absolutely no sense. I don’t know about you but if I discovered a dead body in my freezer I’d call the police. But hey that’s just me.

  5. Thanks for the kind words you wrote on Cloture Club, Dan! I love your reference to dramatic squirrel! Hahahaha. Hilarious.

  6. Good review Dan, and one I think we’re very much on the same wavelength. Kidman had some reason to not be as morbid as her co-stars, but was inconsistent in how she was responding to the events. The place setting also went on a bit too long, but once the gears started grinding Chan-wook hit those high points wonderfully while still keeping the mystery intact. I agree with you on Weaver too – I love her to death but whatever dimensions her arc adds to the movie are replicated to much better effect later in the film.

  7. Hey Dan,

    I know what you’re talking about when you mention the “creepy staring” and how it’s not part of the convention of American cinema, but I think we can expect to see more of a shift towards that. For example, “Drive,” of course, Refn is originally from Denmark.
    I think many Americans will find this interesting, myself included, but then again, I watch a lot of foreign films.


  8. I really liked this movie, perhaps a little more than you, but I’d have to agree that Kidman and Weaver were underused. It’s such a tricky thing… because these great actors are cast in these brief roles, and we just feel let down that their talent wasn’t fully tapped in to. But would it be better if “lesser” actors were cast? Or if Kidman and Weaver’s roles were larger? Ah, either way, Goode and especially Wasikowska carried it for me. Stellar work for sure.

  9. Early in the review you mention the phrase “without a shadow of a doubt”. I find that terrifically ironic because Stoker’s concept is very loosely inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow fo a Doubt” (1942). It’s my favourite Hitchcock film and is, apparently also Hitch’s fave film of his.


  10. “This is his film all the way through, and it’s usually for better, and for worse. Depending on the type of person you really are and what you like. Me, I’m still on the fence.”

    I’m also on the fence. Still am. I like that you mentioned the fact that certain moods, tones, and techniques that might work in a foreign picture will not necessarily translate to an American film. With the director trying to get everything right when it comes to the visuals (and they are beautiful), he forgot to keep us wanting to care. I think I liked “Stoker” less than you did.

  11. Underrated film that really nails the whole dialectic of sexual abuse and identifying with the aggressor. Mia Wasikowska is a great “inward looking” actress. She knows how to create the impression that there are emotional depths underneath the surface.

    What happens in Stoker is that she attempts to maintain an inner world apart from the bullies at school and her creepy uncle. If you remember the scene where the the bully tries to rattle her in art class, how determined she is not to let him get inside her inner world.

    But eventually her uncle bullies his way inside. She begins to identify with him. He follows her to school. He’s the “dark side of the force.” She goes looking for a fight with the bullies because she knows that he’ll pull her out of trouble if she gets in too deep.

    But there’s a price. Because the more strength she draws from her uncle, the more she becomes her uncle. In the end, she kills her uncle but he’s essentially taken her over. She’s become a serial killer.

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