I’m going to get the silly stuff out of the way first. The big, pointless question surrounding Chan-wook Park’s domestic thriller, Stoker, is if it is a worthy, American inclusion to the famed Korean’s filmography. Stoker is Park’s first American-made film, and the conversation has mostly focused on whether his trademarked macabre sensibilities will cross over. And take it from me, a great Park admirer, that Stoker fits snuggly in his oeuvre of human depravity. There’s no doubt who you’re watching, and every doubt as to where it will go, which is about as fine a compliment I can bestow a Park film.
Shortly into the film, attendees gather at the funeral of Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney, who deserves more credit than he’s ever given). Up front sits Richard’s stoic, elitist wife, Eve (Nicole Kidman, who, as she did in The Paperboy, continues to show something new here), and his curious, removed daughter, India (Mia Wasikowska, a 23-year-old powerhouse). Soon into the service, India notices a man standing far off, watching with indifference. This is Richard’s brother, Charles (Matthew Goode, perfect), a man India never knew existed.
Stoker quickly develops into an art house game of cat and mouse, with both beasts living under the same roof. When Even announces to India that Charles will be staying with them in their secluded mansion, India begins a slow investigation into who her uncle is, and if he’s connected to the sudden death of her father. All while battling her personal demons motivated by teenage angst, and a peculiarly hateful mother.
But, this being a Park film, things aren’t nearly as straightforward as I’m making them sound. The narrative is often loopy, with quick cuts of flashbacks or whatever sense memories India can recall at any given time. India’s icy narration adds to the film’s overall creepiness, and things move (for the most part) at a uniformly tedious pace. Come to think of it, I wasn’t certain I liked Stoker while I was watching it. I understood what Park was doing, but I felt his style grew increasingly monotonous. That is until an unexpected scene of sexual discovery managed to launch the film in a new direction, ultimately peaking my interest for the duration.
(I won’t dare reveal the scene, but trust me, it will go down as one of my favorite sequences of 2013. Above all, it shows the true fearlessness of a young actress. Wasikowska is definitely, thankfully here to stay.)
And that is precisely why I’m so drawn to Park’s films. We may think you know where he’s going, but when he throws a complete curveball, we’re surprised, but not really. The new scenario he implements may fool us, but fans of Park know to never forget that, at any moment, he could flip this fucker right on its head. If you’ve seen Park’s Vengeance Trilogy, then you know anything can happen at anytime. It’s a tricky game, juggling with the audiences’ perceptions. But when handled with care, we can be deceived in the best possible way. B+