You take a story told from a teenage girl’s point of view, a story about an uncle who comes to stay with the family for a while. His name is Uncle Charlie. You know there’s something not quite right with him, but you can’t put your finger on it. You let the story slowly simmer until the girl learns the terrible truth about him. Then you put it in the hands of Alfred Hitchcock, and you have Shadow Of A Doubt, one of Hitch’s best.
But if you put it in the hands of Park Chan-wook, you get the mess that is Stoker.
Park, a veteran of films like I’m A Cyborg But That’s OK, is obviously not afraid of boring his audience to death, as he stretches scenes out far beyond their attention-grabbing limit, adds plenty of lengthy, gratuitous shots, and allows the creepy mood he created to wither on the vine while he indulges himself. He’s far more interested in shot-blocking, lighting, and extreme closeups than he is in telling his story, which, when you get right down to it, isn’t really worth filming. Once you peel back all the moodiness, you realize that nothing is happening through the first half of the film. A piano-playing scene involving Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode goes on for eternity with no dialogue, and when it’s finally over, you know the movie wouldn’t have been any different without it (well, seven minutes shorter, maybe). Even Nicole Kidman, who by herself is usually worth the price of admission to any of her films, just sits around drinking wine through this one.
There are brief moments of payoff, which I won’t spoil, although it seems nothing could spoil this movie any further. Those moments, however, are not worth the pointlessness of the scenes that led up to them. If Ingmar Bergman could have ever brought himself to include moments of sudden fright in one of his movies, and if he had shot it in color, it would’ve looked exactly like Stoker. Tedious to the max with relentless closeups of blood dripping from a pencil point, shoes in a box (endlessly trotted out throughout the movie), a boil being lanced, a spider periodically crawling up someone’s leg (what was the point of that, anyway?) … all derived straight from Bergman at his most boring, which some would say is at his “best”. There’s even a rape scene followed by an overlong shower scene, both of which seem oddly detached from the rest of the movie, as though they were grafted from another film altogether.
And that’s really the problem with Stoker. Like Bergman, Park wants to win over his audience with his style, hoping they’ll forget that there isn’t much substance to begin with. The film just sits there in its smugness, daring you not to like it, and then congratulates itself with an ending that is wildly out of place, dropping in from out of the sky.
Recommendation: Stay home and watch something good on TV instead.