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Film Review: Stoker

Posted on by sam

Stoker

Director: Park Chan-wook (2013)

Painted for me by Tom on my 25th birthday, cause deep down he really does love me

Another film watched at The Showroom Cinema, with the girl who, when I’m good, occasionally allows me to penetrate her.

It’s hard to put into words how much I owe to Park Chan-wook  …………………………………but that’d be an awful opening (alright second) sentence if I didn’t try, so here goes……….

If it weren’t for a high-school massacre in America and the subsequent newspaper coverage leading me to watch Oldboy, (then later some of Park Chan-wooks other brilliant films, insert title of basically any film he’s done here) I never would have trodden the wannabe indie filmmaker path, which means I wouldn’t be writing this poorly constructed film review, wouldn’t at the time of writing be editing (read: sat on my arse watching Tom edit) Happy Fingers Productions first feature, Modern Toss, and I likely wouldn’t have ever bothered with subtitled films. Put another less indulgent way; if I were an insecure fifteen year old Norwegian girl, Park Chan-wook would be my Justin Bieber, if I were a superhero he would be my dead parents and if I were a wrestling fan (which has been impossible for a good decade now) he would be my Stone Cold Steve Austin pre 2001. This review is hard then, because while his first English language film isn’t exactly terrible, it is very very dull……………………………………bordering on terrible. Honestly right now I feel a little bit like I’m about to shoot bambi’s mother, her (I’ve always seen bambi as a she no matter what others tell me) ugly and slightly monstrous mother, but her mother all the same………….. urgh let’s get on with this.

Plot summary

Things actually get off to an alri……………….. no I’m lying, it’s a bad start involving Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Tim Burton’s abuse of Alice in Wonderland…………oh you didn’t see it, good for you) in a field doing an inane voiceover, while some oddly angled film credits sway and disappear jarringly. The credits are all sort of at an angle because I suppose that counts as artistic, but it also looks a bit cheap……….. not making this easy for me Mr Inspiration sir!

The gist of the overly long and it has to be said generic voiceover, is that India Stoker (Wasikowska), a gothic looking loner girl, can hear things really well. That’s it, I managed to write that in like one sentence, takes her twelve to say it, so everything’s slow, but then in the very next second her father dies………………….. ok, slightly jumping around with the pacing there my lord and master Park Chan-wook, steady now. One funeral not unlike a military one later and we’re introduced to India’s insecure mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman, a fine and underrated actor, if only she hadn’t pissed scientology off by wanting personal freedom, respect and not to be penetrated by Tom Cruise, she’d probably have the film accolades she deserves by now). Then India’s Uncle Charlie, a posh, and well-spoken prat who apparently hasn’t been seen for a while (played by Mathew Goode, starting to be typecast as a posh and well-spoken prat), turns up and a good forty odd minutes of nothing worth noting happens.

Then there’re a few of cameos; Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom, watch it or fail to understand her genius) appears as an aunt who contributes insanely little to the plot, Lucas Till (Alex summers in the astoundingly watchable X-Men first Class) plays ‘generic high school Jock bully/rapist #378’ and the incredibly named Alden Ehrenreich plays generic ‘seems sensitive and an anti-bully but will ultimately uses his niceness to try and rape, highschooler #376’.

As annoyingly generic and unnecessary as the rapey high school boys subplot is, it does allow for a slightly more interesting second half of a film, as we see India start to explore her more adult emotions and learn that all may not be right about uncle Charlie.

I have to say though, my favourite bit about Stoker was the ending, not because it was the most sensible and interesting part of the ‘plot’ (although it was), or because it was mercifully open and sort of satisfying (although again it was), but because it was the end, and once I’d seen it, I knew Stoker could no longer inflict itself upon me anymore.

Plot summary ends.

The big problem I have with Stoker is that is has the plotting of a short twenty-minute film, the depth of a five minute film and the originality of a knock off third sequel. That could probably still work, but it’s been drawn out to feature length. It means the makers (including alas Mr Park Chan-wook) have created a film with pacing that it would be generous to describe as glacial. I hope you like scenes of awkward dinner conversations between a distant mother, insular daughter and overly charming stranger, because you’ll be seeing them repeated a lot.

The screenplay’s by Wentworth Miller of Prison Break ‘fame’ (apparently) which makes sense, because if ever there was a school in drawing out unoriginal plot points and avoiding showing anything deep for hours at a time, Prison Break is it (also Heroes).

But slow pacing alone isn’t a deal breaker, some of my favourite films are glacially paced, instead everything gets exasperated by genuinely poor, unimaginative writing. Have you seen Carrie or Rear Window, I’m guessing Wentworth Miller has, because that’s basically what Stoker as a story boils down to, only with terrible dialogue. The characters speak in this odd rhythm; they start a sentence with an ‘I’m’ or ‘you’re’, then add an adjective like ‘lonely or unhappy’ then pause, open their eyes wide, stare at the camera and finish with a rhetorical question such as ‘aren’t you’ or ‘don’t I’. If that only happened once or twice it would be fine, but this is like every third line, it all feels unnatural and absolutely fails to cover up the fact we’re listening to characters repeat the same conversations again and again and again. Sometimes what’s not said is more interesting than what’s said, but that’s only true when what’s being said is subtle, when characters spout the same bland, unrealistic stuff again and again it jars and stunts the story, it’s all a bit like the poor, transparent plotting of Tony Scott’s later work.

‘Oh yeah Sam, forgot to mention, Tony Scot’s last act in film was to be a co-producer on Stoker’

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu………………………………………………………………………

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And I’m back.

Right, time to be positive; even though the positives about Stoker the film make it a negative experience for me (stay tuned to find out more): Despite blandness, shallowness and poor writing, Stoker looks pretty boss, there are some lovely transitions reminiscent of Park Chan-wooks best work, a couple of daring yet ultimately successful zooms that apparently shouldn’t work but do, and a colourful, artistic appearance involving beautiful depth of shadows and bright lights.

Any excuse to use this kid

 

More importantly, it seems I can get away with describing something that looks good as looking pretty boss, happy day.

But that’s what we call killing with kindness, not just because (as I’ve stated a number of times) I believe a poor story that looks good is unacceptable, but because it removes the one defence I could have given Park Chan-wook. The fact that visually speaking the film looks like his, means he had some degree of control, which ultimately means I can’t just dismiss the many (big) failings of Stoker as being the result of Hollywood money men, Wentworth Miller and the Scott family (Ridley was involved too) failing to appreciate Park Chan-wooks genius.

There’s an all-purpose cop out a filmmaker friend of mine uses to defend Danny Boyle from criticism when I mention The Beach, ‘he did the best he could with it’. With the Beach that might be true, but for Park Chan-wook in Stoker, much as I want to, I just don’t believe he did his best, no one involved with Stoker did, well except the actors, I can’t criticise Mia Wasikowska, Mathew Goode, Nicole Kidman or the supporting cameos, in fact with writing as generic and counter-intuitive as some of Stoker, they probably deserve medals and a three day weekend to recover.

Everyone else though, well they can go suck lemons, even my filmmaking hero, because Stoker had a lot of decent people involved with it………………… and Wentworth Miller, someone should have had the wherewithal to see how turgid it was becoming and the outcome should have been something a lot more remarkable and……………..well enjoyable I guess. Stoker was Park Chan-wooks first English language film. In the context of his career, that should have been the least important statement I could make about the film, instead it’s the only real reason I can find to suggest anyone attempt to watch it.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying Stoke is an almost soulless stain on Park Chan-wooks otherwise incredible career

… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …  … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …  … … … … … … … … … … … … … . . but that’s exactly what it is.

Written by Sam ‘The only thing slower than a Prison Break episode is frozen in nitrogen’ McKinstrie

Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP

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