Film Review: ‘Stoker’ is Park Chan-wook’s invasion of America

Mia Wasikowska plays a deranged teenager in "Stoker" Credit: Macall Polay
Mia Wasikowska plays a deranged teenager in “Stoker”
Credit: Macall Polay

‘Stoker’
Director: Park Chan-wook
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

South Korean director Park Chan-wook isn’t terribly known outside of fanboy circles, but his reputation is secure, thanks mostly to the hammer-wielding, octopus-slurping genre grinder “Oldboy.” Traditionally a cult hit from a foreign filmmaker leads to a dispiriting American stint, but Park is too much a stylist to get ground up by the Hollywood machine. His English-language debut, “Stoker” finds him in the United States but working on its margins. It’s a serial killer pic, but a Park Chan-wook serial killer pic, which is to say it’s obsessed not with plot or even grisly murders but with visual design, outré ideas and a hothouse atmosphere, no doubt gleaned from watching too many American movies.

It’s a good thing the filmmaker doesn’t care about plot, because it’s not “Stoker”’s strongest point. Park decided his first American film should be the first produced script cowritten by Wentworth Miller, the star of “Prison Break.” A teenager with the loaded name of India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) loses her father in a car accident (allegedly!). The funeral brings forth mysterious uncle Charles (Matthew Goode), who intrigues her first with his handsomeness and sex appeal, and then by revealing that he likes to snap necks with his belt.

Of course, there are twists, but Miller’s script also goes to some weird places: India has the hots for her uncle, as does her widowed mom (Nicole Kidman, underused but reliably wild-eyed), and she soon finds herself turned on by his blasé treatment of other people’s lives, leading to a genuinely out there shower scene.

Park grasps onto these elements as tight as he can, doing his best to obscure the silly story with an array of fetishistic phantasmagoria. Park’s images, as ever, are fussy and borderline (and often actually) OCD. It’s not just him showing off (although it’s that, too): the power of surfaces is an idea that tends to be built into his narratives. “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” finds a woman with hot crimson eye shadow whose aggressively stylized revenge masks deeper trauma. Still, despite amplifying its transgressive bits, Park proves unable to get deeper into the script, and frankly seems bored by its machinations. Park works best when astride unbelievable tragedy, as in his best work (thus far), “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.” “Stoker” seems like a placeholder, an excuse to work out his pet themes and talents before a project captures his complete attention.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Man under evaluation for alleged gun threat at…

A man who allegedly threatened to open fire in the building that houses the Los Angeles Times' headquarters was being held in custody for a mental evaluation.

National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

MLB

Jimmy Rollins is key to Phillies success

When John Kruk was asked about what the Phillies need to contend for a playoff berth, the ESPN analyst said Jimmy Rollins needs to play like a MVP again.

MLB

Ben Revere lifts Phillies to avoid sweep

Ben Revere came through with a two-out RBI single against Atlanta’s tough lefthander Alex Wood.

NBA

Season wrap: 76ers make the grade

The 76ers opened the 2013-14 season with a victory over the Miami Heat. The Sixers closed the season with a win at Miami.

NBA

Fantasy basketball: Finding next year's NBA studs

Before we put the 2013-14 fantasy basketball season to bed, it’s worth thinking about next year’s breakouts while they’re fresh in our mind.

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.