Director Chan-wook Park’s (Oldeuboi (Oldboy) (2003)) and Lady Vengence (2005)) Stoker (2013), is his first picture with English dialogue. Given that Park doesn’t speak any English, you’ll suspect that his lack of language skills may have hindered the storyline. I heartily disagree. His use of creative imagery, effective camera angles and tracking of characters make Stoker a reel of images that is hard to shake even days after its first viewing.
The film begins as India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) learns her father has died in a car accident. Peculiar at it seems at the time, little attention is given to the fact the accident was over two states away. No one knows why he was so far away from home. No one even knows whether it was suicide or foul play. Either way, the only person she trusted is now gone. Her mother (Nicole Kidman) is already off her rocker. Add a deceased husband to the mix, along with a mysterious visitor, and you don’t have the most stable environment for a teenage girl. India needs a role model.
At the beginning of the film, India is trying to come to terms with her genetic disposition. She states: “I wear my father’s belt, over my mother’s blouse…” in reference to how she has taken, for better or worse, certain characteristics from each of her parents. The question is – just how deep will she accept these qualities?
At her father’s funeral, a mysterious Uncle Charlie (Mathew Goode) appears. It doesn’t take long for India to show her discomfort around Uncle Charlie, but quickly that discomfort shifts to intrigue. Uncle Charlie shows he wants to provide India and her mother support during this difficult time. While India’s mother finds solace in Uncle Charlie through late night dinners and drinks, India finds comfort in Uncle Charlie’s dark secrets. Just as Uncle Charlie and India’s relationship takes a most unusual and discomforting turn one night, India witnesses a heinous crime by her uncle. After assisting the crime, India realizes an aspect of her true self she couldn’t pinpoint before and begins to understand what she really is – a murderer.
Where Park thrives the most is emphasizing sounds, colors, and images to further the storyline and instill his ideas, again for better or worse, in your head. Camera angles are accentuated and expertly used to further the story. Infatuated stares, shifting eyes, close-up of belts – these all show what Park needs us to focus on. It’s his way of saying, pay attention to this; I’ll come back to it later. These over exaggerated sounds, colors, and stares, accompanied with under exaggerated feelings and emotions, produce an experience unlike any film this year.
Overall, Stoker is a masterful example of storytelling. After a viewing, you’ll see the comparisons to a Hitchcock thriller, but this tale has a style of creativity that is distinctly Park. He may have worn Hitchcock’s blouse while filming, but he is definitely wearing his own belt.