New Release Review - Stoker

Directed by: Park Chan Wook
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney

Following her father's death, a teenage girl grows suspicious of her newly arrived uncle.

At the funeral of her father, 18 year old India (Wasikowska) first meets Charlie (Goode), the uncle who had sent her a new pair of shoes on each of her 18 birthdays but had never previously visited. Her grieving mother, Evelyn (Kidman), invites Charlie to stay and he accepts the invitation. India finds herself drawn to her uncle's charm, as does Evelyn, but grows suspicious when their housekeeper mysteriously vanishes shortly after she is seen arguing with Charlie. As India becomes acquainted with Charlie, sexual and violent impulses are awakened within her, leading the two to share a dark secret.
Ken Russell once related an anecdote regarding his controversial film 'Women in Love'. When the movie opened in 1969, Russell wanted to experience the public's reaction and so purchased a ticket for an afternoon screening in one of the more conservative of London's suburbs. Spotting a pair of elderly ladies seated together, he rubbed his hands with glee and took a seat behind them. Russell waited patiently for the film's notorious naked wrestling match between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed, certain it would cause moral outrage amongst the audience. When the scene arrived, he leaned close to the two old dears who sat attentively through the scene, not passing any remarks. Finally, when the scene ended, one lady turned to the other and simply whispered "Lovely carpet, wasn't it?"
'Stoker', the U.S debut of acclaimed Korean director Wook, features some lovely carpet...and furniture...and drapes etc. You won't see too much production design to rival its elegance this year. The same goes for Chung-hoon Chung's cinematography, absolutely glorious. Unfortunately the film is as emotionally uninvolving as it is aesthetically interesting. Despite Wook's best attempts, it boils down to an unremarkable thriller, albeit one seemingly aimed more at hardcore cinephiles than general audiences. 
The screenplay, by actor Wentworth Miller, spends more time referencing Hitchcock than building genuine suspense. It may aim for the work of Hitchcock himself but the film 'Stoker' most reminds me of is 'Psycho 3', another movie which looks fantastic but fails to draw you into its story. We even get a repeat of that movie's motel phone-booth murder. Fans of Vincente Minnelli will also spot a homage to the creepy piano scene between Katharine Hepburn and Robert Taylor from his 1946 'Undercurrent'. Remove these many homages and you're left with a visually stunning, but ultimately empty, experience.
6/10

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