You owe yourself to give a film a chance beyond the first few minutes. Whether it is finding its own rhythm or for you to allow it to weave its web, the opening experience isn’t always going to be the best foot forward. That’s exactly how I felt while watching Stoker, Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut. In fact, I was caught by the mixed emotions I had felt towards the film afterwards. Somehow I had gone from gently laughing at the film to joining in on its zaniness about half way and downright enjoying myself by the end.
In just under 100 minutes, Stoker grew on me by leaps and bounds. Perverse in its own violence and depravity while thrilling in the emotions it elicits, this is one flawlessly acted loss of innocence journey that takes some of the best elements Alfred Hitchcock had to offer and places them in a Gothic fairy-tale during the modern day.
High schooler India (Mia Wasikowska) has grown up with a loving father and distant mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). That all changes when her relatively simple life is upeneded upon her father’s tragic death in a car crash. Her mysterious uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode), shows up from his world travels soon after and engratiates himself with her mother. Now widowed, and with a mysterious and handsome man on her doorstep, the attraction and desire is obvious.
Charlie does nothing to stop the emotions he elicits from Evelyn, seemingly teasing India with his affect on her mother. But something sinister lies within him—something India finds she shares. Something that will change her forever.
Throughout, Stoker feels gloriously unhinged. The beginning takes a while to find solid ground, but once it takes off you’re scooped up inside the mystery and intrigue. Some have wondered if this is a vampire tale. This definitely is not. Sure, Bram Stoker, the original author of Dracula, shares the film’s namesake, but there’s not even a hint of supernatural elements at play.
In fact, that may be even scarier. This is just a twisted tale of a young girl discovering herself, her passions, and how she reacts to violence. That will make a lot of people uncomfortable, and the dark humor Chan-wook is known for is retained in English. All three leads seem to be on top of their game, with Goode oozing sex appeal as the preternatural lurker that is full of shady history.
Again and again, Chan-wook challenges you. There’s moments of quiet contemplation and some of the most beautiful cinematography around. However, when you get around to thinking about the themes and what you just experienced, you may feel tricked. You knew you were in for a ride, but not the one you receive. Thankfully, that ride was right up my alley. The film is still on my mind and I can’t wait to experience it again. This is a film you will talk about long after. In fact, it encourages discussion, and I’ve got a feeling there are rich details that are only available on repeat viewings.