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Overall Rating
4.13

Awesome: 26.09%
Worth A Look60.87%
Just Average: 13.04%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

3 reviews, 5 user ratings


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Stoker
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by Eric Lefenfeld

"Sympathy For an Expatriate Filmmaker"
4 stars

Given the precedent, itís not wrong to assume that "Stoker," the American debut of South Korea's Park Chan-wook, would fall prey to the same generic drift that has inflicted so many transplants that came before. As with anything, though, there are exceptions to every rule, and Park refuses to let himself be pinned down by convention, crafting a visually sumptuous tale that manages to toe the line of being accessible for a wider audience while still being just as transgressive, sexy, and brimming with darkness as his previous works.

Itís a well-traveled road. A filmmaker finds international success with a series of audacious films made in their home country; Hollywood reaches out, silver tongue a-wagginí with sugary sweet promises of bigger budgets and the brightest of movie stars, and said filmmaker finds himself helming a major production. A great notion in theory, but it is most often the case that the same unique voice that brought the director so much acclaim in the first place is shined and buffed out of existence by the glossy machinations of the Hollywood system. One only has to look back a few months to see a recent example in Jee Woon-kim. His American debut, "The Last Stand," is a passable Schwarzenegger vehicle, but itís a far cry from the boldness on display in "I Saw The Devil" or "A Tale Of Two Sisters."

The key to Parkís successful transition lies in the deceptively simple nature of the story. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is already an introverted and troubled young woman when her father is abruptly killed in a car accident, leaving her in the hands of her emotionally distant mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Into a household already rife with tension comes her fatherís younger brother, the mysterious Charlie (Matthew Goode), a handsome charmer whom India has never met. He wastes no time in moving into the home, much to Indiaís chagrin (and Evelynís pleasure). India, against her own better judgement, finds herself drawn to this cipher of a relative, but to say any more would dilute the pleasure of the film. That would also imply that thereís a huge amount of plot left to spoil, but enjoyment comes not from plot twists, or lack thereof, but in just seeing these three characters circle each other under Parkís deft eye.

In this regard, "Stoker" stands in stark contrast to the manís previous work. Where the Vengeance trilogy ("Oldboy," especially) was rooted in operatic twists and turns, the basic machinations of "Stoker" should be familiar to anyone whoís ever seen any sort of home invasion thriller. Never once, though, does this familiarity get in the way of enjoying the film. This straightforward simplicity (on the surface, at least), gives Park an open canvas on which to paint his singular vision.

Outside of a few crucial scenes, the majority of the film takes place at the Stokersí baroque mansion. The old house is the uncredited fourth lead of the film, and Park knows it. The camera glides smoothly through the hallways as the power dynamics continue to shift within the family, and there are a couple of instances where Park blatantly breaks the laws of cinematic physics, giving certain scenes with Charlie an almost otherworldly menace as he bends the architecture of the house to allow the man to be appear anywhere at will. Thereís also a not at all subtle visual motif of circles present throughout the entire film: rounded rocks in the front yard, a full moon in the night sky during a pivotal scene, a kitchen wall decorated with a number of hanging plates-- India's cyclical growth pattern writ large. Subtle? Not even remotely, but itís touches like this that show Park has not abandoned the more operatic elements of his earlier films; heís just smartly grafted them onto a smaller story for his first dip into broader waters.

In such a smaller-scale story, itís crucial that the main players are more than up to snuff, and all three rise to the occasion. Ultimately, the actors are playing stock characters, but the standard archetypes are so well-embodied that their familiarity is never a problem. Wasikowska is given a tough nut to crack, but she mixes all of Indiaís conflicted feelings -- teen angst, aloofness, and a dangerously budding sexuality -- without ever going too over top in any direction. Kidman is playing a variation on her increasingly standard ice queen, but it really is the type of role in which she excels, especially as she starts dropping her brittle facade as the film progresses. Goode might have the biggest challenge of the cast, as he has to play so close to the vest as the mysterious stranger. From the get-go, thereís a consistent coldness behind his bright eyes, and heís wise not to tip his hand too soon, straddling that crucial gap that exists between menace and seduction.

"Oldboy" or "Thirst," this is not. In the end, "Stoker" is (all caps) A BIG HOLLYWOOD FILM, and Park pays the necessary price that all but a few proven talents must pay in order to exist in such a lofty realm. There's never any doubt, though, that this is indeed a film by Park Chan-wook, and thatís what makes it a special cinematic beast. There might be a small sacrifice in treading well-worn ground in terms of basic storytelling, but Parkís distinctive visual style is never anything but front and center, and he consistently elevates a just passable story into a rich meditation on the nature of family ties.

Against all odds, Park Chan-Wook's unnerving sensibility has not at all been lost in translation on the way to Western screens, and thatís to be admired at all costs. Welcome to America, Mr. Park. Donít be leaving us anytime soon.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24072&reviewer=430
originally posted: 03/21/13 20:11:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/07/13 mr.mike Decent home vid rental. 3 stars
6/18/13 Pierre Mosbey Loved. Art House Thriller at its finest. 4 stars
6/07/13 Langano Devilish beauty 4 stars
4/16/13 Marlon Wallace Director Park has put together what is arguably the most beautiful, horror film I've seen. 3 stars
3/01/13 PAUL SHORTT WELL MADE, MENACING THRILLER WITH GOOD PERFORMANCES 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  01-Mar-2013 (R)
  DVD: 18-Jun-2013

UK
  N/A

Australia
  01-Mar-2013
  DVD: 18-Jun-2013




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