Park Chan-wook’s first American feature, Stoker, is a sensual feast for the eyes and ears. But it’s lacking elsewhere.
Mia Wasikowska stars as India, a girl with acute senses, hearing the slightest breeze, spotting the tiniest spider with supernatural intensity. Tragedy strikes on India’s 18th birthday after her father gets in a car accident. Enter: her handsome uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). A man she has never met, Charlie has a towering aura of mystery; a cold demeanor, easily switched off with a charismatic smirk and twinkling eyes. India’s mother, Evelyn (a bearable, full-voiced Nicole Kidman) is smitten with the little-known Charlie, with whom she shares a puppy dog style sexual tension in between bouts of grief for her late husband. India is suspicious of her uncle and reluctant to give into his charm and believe anything he has to say. But she sees something of herself in him.
Stoker has a mystery that is inevitable and predictable–a crux to a mystery if ever there was one. But Chan-wook is far more entranced by the visual and aural possibilities of bringing to vibrancy Wentworth Miller’s screenplay. Stoker is by and large a beautiful film. From the farthermost corners of Hollywood we’re seeing a slew of films whose beauty far outweighs their plots (Spring Breakers, Upstream Color, Antiviral), but few of these films have a cohesive, contrasting palette as this one.
I’m willing to forgive Stoker for its narrative shortcomings (it’s a shortcoming if you’re not interested, right?). It’s a film of acute peripheral flourishes of visual and auditory technical perfection. Chan-wook makes the wind feel like a character of its own; a ring of shoe boxes looks like an artist’s defining masterpiece; murder is a symphony of sights and sounds.
One thing is certain: Chan-wook is a master in his field, a vessel for the very definition of the moving image.