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The 400-Word Review: Stoker

By Sean Collier

March 26, 2013

I always feel like somebody's watching me.

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Stoker, the new horror film from Oldboy creator Chan-wook Park, seeks to answer a question that no one really asked: can a full-blooded, extreme horror film connect with general American audiences?

To cut to the ending, the answer is probably no. But that doesn’t mean that Stoker isn’t an interesting effort.

Brooding teenager India (Mia Wasikowska) is in a bad spot. She’s lost her beloved father, Richard — with whom she took frequent, graphically depicted hunting trips — to a car accident, and finds herself living with batty mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and long-lost (in fact, heretofore unknown) uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), Richard’s brother. Charlie’s overarching mysteriousness is enhanced by his possibly-murderous, possibly-sexual fixation on India, who responds by...well, wandering around the house and quietly hating boys.

The action picks up dramatically (and disturbingly) in the film’s second half, as the connection between India and Charlie — and Charlie’s past — is probed and revealed. The film deliberately leaves the audience uncertain as to whether the threat is supernatural or merely demented; that guessing game, in lieu of much plot development, occupies the film’s first act.

Fortunately, Park is a showy and inventive director, so Stoker’s potentially dull setup period survives by virtue of his interesting work (along with that of cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung). Exploration is the word — India explores the house, the people, and herself; Park takes us inside her scattered and confused vision of the world around her.




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When things get going, though, they really get going. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen before, but much of it comes as a surprise in the moment; there will certainly be audience members for whom Stoker is the most intense horror film they’ve encountered.

Perhaps that was Park’s intention. There’s a big-name cast (also including Dermot Mulroney and Jacki Weaver) centered — at least in marketing — around Kidman, who remains associated with decidedly PG-13 thrillers like The Others. It’s also Park’s first work in English. I’m left to speculate that he wanted to draw unsuspecting audiences into the theater, only to hit them over the head with some serious material.

For genre fans, it certainly works — aficionados of horror, as well as Park’s devotees, will be pleased. Others, however, should proceed with caution. The domestic setting and big-name cast belies the depths Park travels to, giddily. When India gets ready for a shower, watch out.


Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark


     


 
 

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