Director Park Chan-wook’s Stoker is a gothic horror/family drama/thriller-hybrid … and is just as unwieldy as that breakdown suggests. Written by British-born, US-raised actor Wentworth Miller (the lead in the TV show Prison Break), the plot – about a grieving daughter, India (Mia Wasikowska) and her oddball relationship with her father’s estranged brother (Matthew Goode) – doesn’t make much sense, but the occasionally witty script and Park’s truly baffling flourishes give the story a genuine sense of ‘otherness’ lacking from most thrillers.
The Oldboy director throws EVERYTHING at the material (often in the same scene), including match cuts, tracking shots and crossing the line. It’s beautifully photographed by Chung Chung-hoon, but Park doesn’t trust his long-time cinematographer, over-directing most scenes with peculiar editing and sound choices. It’s an entertaining mess, often verging on camp gold. Frankly, only a third act reveal sours the mood. Miller attempts to suggest the underlying psychological factors behind Charlie’s pathological behaviour, but the film – with its ridiculous stereotypes, limp world building, nonsensical plot and depiction of psychopaths as cool, aloof, well-dressed, romantic figures – has done nothing to earn that moment.
The performances are similarly odd. It’s difficult to know if Goode is a fine performer who’s been typecast as obnoxious jackasses (Match Point, The Lookout, Cemetery Junction, Burning Man) or whether that’s his range. Well, the third act-reveal asks him to dig deeper, to invest the character with hurt … and he’s unintentionally hilarious. Frankly, he was WAY MORE INTERESTING as the one-note jackass. Kidman, on the other hand, is sidelined for much of the film, but completely nails a late speech. The Australian actress delivers a number of complicated emotions within a short space of time, highlighting – once again – her extraordinary technical command. Likewise, Wasikowska makes India an involving and textured character, effectively illustrating the introvert’s fuller understanding of her identity.
Not great (or even particularly good), Stoker is at least different. Is that enough?
MIFF runs funtil August 11. All program details here.