Imagine a jack in the box designed by Frank Gehry. It’s exquisite. And a little weird. You don’t even want to use it. You just want to look at it, soak in the detail. Imagine the time and effort and love it took to construct something this beautiful.
But it is a jack in the box. So you turn the crank and hear that familiar tune, but nothing pops out. So you turn and turn the crank some more, and still, nothing. So you keep turning, and now, Pop Goes the Weasel is starting to become REALLY annoying. And you start thinking to yourself, “Whatever pops out of this box better be the coolest friggin’ clown or whatever I’ve ever seen.” So, after cranking for what seems like minutes, the box finally opens. And what pops out, but that same damn clown that pops out of every stupid jack in the box.
Well, that’s Stoker.
I love Park Chan-Wook. I’d never heard of him until the 2004 Cannes Film Festival when the jury, headed by Quentin Tarantino, awarded his movie Oldboy with the Special Jury Prize. I was still in full blown love with all things Tarantino at the time, so anything with his seal of approval was automatically worth my time.
So I walked into the Landmark Century Centre Cinema with my box of Junior Mints to see Oldboy. And once the movie began, I never even opened the box. I had such a grip on the box during the entire movie that the mints inside melted into one large box-shaped mutant mint. For those two hours, I was enthralled! The beauty of the lighting and composition in combination with the ugliness and brutality on screen was done in such a way that I had never seen before. And a character at the center of it all seeking a level of revenge almost Shakespearean in its grandeur. I was hooked.
It was with great delight that I found out that Oldboy was the second movie in a trilogy informally known as the Vengeance Trilogy. The first one, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, while not as great as Oldboy, still had that visual panache that puts it above most other genre movies. And Lady Vengeance, the final movie of the trilogy, was every bit the equal of Oldboy.
I went to see Three… Extremes, a compilation of short films by three different directors, primarily to see Park Chan-Wook’s contribution, and it was well worth it. His last film, Thirst, while far from perfect, is one of the most interesting takes on the vampire genre I’ve seen.
So here’s Stoker, his first English-language movie. And from the start, that beautiful camera technique is in full effect. And the way he creates an atmosphere of dread and impending violence is just promising more of that over-the-top catharsis his previous work delivered.
But then something happens. Or, to be more accurate, nothing happens. So I’m thinking, maybe it’s just me. I’m so amped up to see this movie and I just need to chill out and let it do it’s thing.
Well, by the time secrets start to be revealed and consequences begin to wreak havoc, it just wasn’t worthy of its protracted setup.
I’m not blaming Park Chan-Wook for this letdown. Nor do I blame the leads: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman. They all came to play and hit all the notes of fear and menace. No, they’ve been let down by an inert script by Wentworth Miller.
Stoker aspires to be Shadow of a Doubt, that underrated 1943 Hitchcock gem written by Thornton Wilder. Both movies center around a young woman and the impact of the mysterious stranger known as Uncle Charlie. Yep, both movies have an Uncle Charlie. And both Joseph Cotton in Shadow of a Doubt and Matthew Goode in Stoker are adept at suggesting a latent hostility of humanity in general and a prurient interest in an underage woman in particular, though Teresa Wright in Shadow of a Doubt was more of an innocent and Mia Wasikowska in Stoker seems more willing to be corrupted.
But Shadow of a Doubt makes its small town integral to the telling of its story, and Uncle Charlie in that movie had “interests” outside of the main storyline (yes, he may be a serial killer, but at least it’s something to pass the time when Charlotte (Wright) is not around.) Uncle Charlie in Stoker is only interested in India (Wasikowska) and the rest of the movie is only interested in the three main characters, which would be fine if anything other than a whole lot of hinting were going on.
So actually, Park Chan-Wook should be commended for bringing his prodigious technique to the proceedings. It was Miller and his script that brought nothing. Stoker is another one of those “style over substance” movies, but the style is so opulent and the acting is so good that they almost make the movie a compelling experience. Almost.Follow @filmbyfelix