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#513 - Stoker
Chan-wook Park, 2013

A mysterious man moves in with his brother's widow and daughter.

It's amazing what I can be convinced to watch depending on the names attached. Though my only other experiences with Chan-wook Park's work are predictably limited to his thematically connected "Vengeance" trilogy, I was still rather intrigued by how he'd translate his disconcerting yet captivating directorial sensibilities to an English-language film. The trailer for Stoker did make it out to be a sufficiently unsettling work of psychological drama thanks to the uneasy situation that arises in the wake of a family man's accidental death; namely, that his wife (Nicole Kidman) and daughter (Mia Wasikowska) would then have to deal with the unnerving presence of his estranged brother (Matthew Goode). From there, the film starts to channel Hitchcock's classic Shadow of a Doubt as Wasikowska starts to realise that Goode is more than the polite yet eccentric man that he appears to be. This extends to him influencing other rituals of hers such as receiving birthday presents from her father or playing the piano.

Though Park does bring an interesting visual style to the film through some frantic editing and carefully constructed camerawork, it's not enough to compensate for how fundamentally lacklustre the script ends up being. The three leads do their best to elevate the material; Goode once again plays a dapper yet suspicious gentleman, Kidman plays a woman who is gracefully trying to return her situation to normal no matter how abnormal it gets, while Wasikowska arguably gets the most difficult part as she is alternately repelled and intrigued by Goode's character in addition to trying to navigate her own difficult coming of age. This extends to some complicated moments such as Goode's rather perverse fixation on her or the difficulties she encounters at the hands of the male students from her high school (especially when both these factors collide in one of the film's most memorable sequences). Just because the film is sporadically interesting does not make it an especially profound or thrilling drama; scenes are just as likely to be boring as tense, if not more so. It does ramp up towards the end, but that does little to redeem the film as a whole. Interesting visuals and twisty narratives may have served Park well in the past, but even in his hands Stoker feels like a misfire. The confusion over whether or not this film was set in the past or the present persisted well into the film, but that confusion ultimately becomes irrelevant in the face of yet another modern thriller that tries to make explicit what older writers and directors would've effectively left to a viewer's imagination.