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Film Five Stars
Stoker is the first English language and Western made film for director Chan-wook Park a name you will undoubtedly recognise from the fantastic Oldboy (Filmstalker review) and perhaps other films such as JSA: Joint Security Area, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Chinjeolhan Geumjassi) (Filmstalker review), I'm a Cyborg but that's OK (Filmstalker review) and Thirst. He's a superb director but he hasn't made the move to Hollywood and really there didn't seem to be a need.

Now he's made that move and to join him he's managed to get a surprising cast that backs up the suggestion of a creepy psychological thriller, Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode. Now that's a fine cast indeed.

So many foreign directors arrive in Hollywood and fail to deliver, or rather they fail to fit into the studio system and end up seeing their film fail at the box office or to get a proper release and they return to their home film industry. I doubt this can be said of this director and his film Stoker.

Plot.pngStoker.jpgIndia's father dies in a tragic car crash and on the day of the funeral the family discover that he had a brother, a brother who is rather charismatic and slightly strange and has decided to stay with them to help them through their difficult time. India is initially suspicious of him but is slowly drawn to his charming ways, just as her emotionally unstable mother is. She remains distrustful of him but he has a certain way about him, something that draws her closer despite her fears.

TheFilm.pngStoker is unsettling from the beginning and carries that feeling throughout the film to great effect. There's a slow building pressure that begins early on through the visuals, the music, the script, the performances and also through what is left unsaid.

The film is thick with atmosphere and style and tells the story a unique way which feels far from the Hollywood thriller you might expect. It holds back and reveals just at the right moments, and it lets the audience build their own ideas and conclusions without leading them there. It also manages to inject moments of lightness and amusement amongst the darkness of the story. Bring all this together and I think it's fair to say that Chan-wook Park has not been overcome by the western studio system.

Of course it's not all down to the director, there's a script there too that comes from an unlikely source. Wentworth Miller is the writer credited with the script along with contributing writer Erin Cressida Wilson who has previously worked on Secretary and Chloe (Filmstalker review), two films where you can some similar patterns. However it's the main writing credit for Miller that has me surprised and it does suggest great things to come from his keyboard.

The opening titles are the first thing to capture your eye about Stoker and mark it apart from other such thrillers, they not only act as titles but they also help tell part of the story, a part you'll have to wait to return to later in the film. I loved the way these titles drew you into the film from the outset, becoming part of the world we're entering into.

Another aspect of the film that these titles reflect is the reflective and portentous qualities of the script. The film often uses scenes in the past to reference the present or the future to great effect, sometimes returning to a moment or a place to reveal something new or undiscovered from the first time we visited it. The titles set out the cyclical nature of the film right from the beginning.

The titles also start a style of transition for the film that comes along a number of times, not whenever a transition is required, but just for some key moments such as the examination of the shoes as the representation of the main character looking back through the years, or when India is reading through the many letters she finds.

A number of times we'll see similarly ingenious and visually arresting imagery and it does make a hugely positive impact to the film. We've seen from many of Chan-Wook Park's films that he can make straight forward storytelling moments such as these come alive and seem far more engaging and exciting on screen than they do on paper, not only bringing them to life visually but telling them in different ways or adding an extra level to the storytelling through the visuals.

While Stoker is beautifully stylised and filmed throughout there were a couple of moments where I would have liked it to calm down just a little. One such area was in the sweeping and panning camera which during the piano duets scene became just a little bit too obtrusive and pulled my mind to the camera work rather than what was happening in the scene itself. These are just moments though and for the most part the film looks fantastic.

The script is superbly written and visualised and delivers such a subtle and well paced film, it's definitely not one you'd expect from Hollywood and not one I expected from Wentworth Miller either. There was one moment that stood out from the subtle storytelling when we first see the true character of the uncle and a television shows a documentary of an eagle and its own true behaviour. It stands out from the subtlety and poise of the rest of the film and perhaps looking back this was the intention for the scene to give a jarring change of direction, but it does feel very different to the subtlety everywhere else.

There are superb performances from all the leads and Matthew Goode is excellent as the self assured and very unsettling uncle. Mia Wasikowska is excellent in her role as India, especially when she's showing her uncertainty of the uncle, her dynamic with Goode is powerful and develops well making you unsure of how exactly they feel towards each other or how their relationship will play out. She demands your attention and you feel there's so much to her character rather than just a broody teenager with problems, severe problems perhaps, but she makes that character so much more.

Nicole Kidman is also great in her role and she has a superb character that she plays superbly well, in fact you end up wanting to see more of her in her character. Kidman is an actress that seems to be picking and delivering better roles than ever before and delivering career high performances with them, and this is another such performance brought on the back of a strong thriller.

Stoker is more than an unsettling thriller than the norm and it offers much more depth too. There's so much to think about regarding the character of India, the relationship between her and the uncle and exactly what her father was thinking when we see the scenes of him teaching her what he believed would be important in her life. When you see the outcome of the film and how all these plot threads come together you'll find yourself wondering about his motives and without the character really being there he does leave the story with a powerful stamp. It's strange that I do remember Dermot Mulroney as having a larger role in the film and yet he's not actually on screen too often, it's just when he is it is with a fair impact to the story.

Overall.pngI found myself engrossed with the film from beginning to end through the visuals and most importantly through the story and the characters. In fact Stoker is one of those films that I really love for it goes beyond the end of the film, no there's not a credits scene rather its one of those films that keeps returning to your thoughts and gives you space to think about more than just what you were fed through the film.

There's a great deal of depth, or width if you prefer, to the story and characters in Stoker and that's one of the major strengths of the film. This doesn't just come through the script from Wentworth Miller but through the fantastic visuals and pacing from Chan-wook Park who has managed to bring his directorial talent quite successfully to Hollywood. What's more is that he's made a film that's more than accessible to those who don't know or don't care for his previous work, although why you wouldn't I have no idea.

Let me not forget to mention the three leading actors who all give great performances that add so much to their characters and the film overall. Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman are all worth seeing just on their own performances but when playing together they really do work well and help pull you into their story.

Stoker is a fantastic film that will have you engaged, feeling very uneasy and uncertain, and very fulfilled come the end of the film. It also gives you plenty of room to think for yourself and provides a fantastic alternative to all the standard films we see pouring out with the category of thriller tagged on them.

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