Review: "Stoker" Is Sexy, Messy, and, Best of All, Insane

Review: "Stoker" Is Sexy, Messy, and, Best of All, Insane

Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

Director: Park Chan-wook
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney, Alden Ehrenreich
Running time: 98 minutes
Rating: R
✭✭✭✭✭✭✭✭✩✩
Score: 8/10

To fully appreciate Park Chan-wook's wonderfully campy and downright insane English-language debut, Stoker, one must have a high tolerance for presentation over coherence. As in, the capability to abandon any interest in a tight, well-crafted screenplay. It's not that first-time writer Wentworth Miller' (yes, the former star of Fox's Prison Break) script is a total disaster—one could argue that his intention was to provoke more than pen the next great American Gothic yarn. But Stoker often trips on its own randomness, illogical character decisions, and enjoyably twisted yet thinly set-up, revelations.

If you're ready to revel in perverted horror that ODs on inventive visuals, though, Stoker will inspire euphoric giddiness. Staying true to the stylized violence, taboo-busting turns, and macabre sense of humor on display in his earlier efforts, like Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Chan-wook uses his exceptional directorial talents to elevate Miller's otherwise lackluster script. He's also able to pull career-best performances from two of his stars: Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), who' simultaneously shifts from quietly eruptive and tenderly fragile in nearly every scene, and Matthew Goode (Watchmen).

The former plays India Stoker, an introverted, all-black-everything teenager (think Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice, only creepier) whose already complicated life gets upended when a mysterious amd charming uncle, Charlie (Goode), whom she didn't know existed, shows up to help she and her mother (Nicole Kidman, sexier than ever) cope with the death of India's nice-guy father (Dermot Mulroney). Which, coincidentally, also signals a string of local homicides and uncovered Stoker family secrets that tap into some dark and, to Miller's credit, mostly unpredictable Hitchcockian narrative tropes.

In past interviews, Chan-wook has said that seeing Alfred Hitchcock's classic Vertigo was what motivated him to become a filmmaker, a factoid that's prescient here since, from top to bottom, Stoker is adorned in unsubtle nods to Hitch's oeuvre, everything from the close-up of cop glasses in Psycho and a character's unfortunate amount of time spent inside a phone booth, a la The Birds. Chan-wook, whose prior films balanced heightened visuals with intelligent stories, must have read Miller's script, felt the Hitchcock vibes, and decided to go to town.

That's not a bad thing. When unapologetic camp is executed with this level of energy, and it's watched by thrill-seeking viewers who can turn off their brains and get down with on-screen murder, mayhem, and depraved sexual behavior, there's nothing like it. And Stoker—which features such masterfully staged craziness as a piano-playing session that turns into an orgasmic freak-out and a literal "coming" of age conveyed through a horrific yet provocative montage—brings the shallow goods with delightful recklessness.

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Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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Tags: stoker, park-chan-wook, mia-wasikowska, nicole-kidman, matthew-goode, wentworth-miller
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