Stoker marks director Park Chan-wook’s English language debut feature. In his home country of South Korea, Chan-wook has previously made thrillers with vicious subject matters with arguably the most notable example being Oldboy. Considering the alteration of language, location shooting and visual style, Stoker could be his career-changing or career-slipping project. Chan-wook enters Hollywood and goes off to a flying start as he provides us with a thriller that contains his trademark style of brutality but applies it at a more suspenseful level. In that sense, it is less extreme than what he has previously done. Consequently, Stoker is a fantastic first attempt at Hollywood cinema from Chan-wook and is a chilling film to watch.
While Chan-wook’s individual contribution to Stoker made it a success, the homage to Alfred Hitchcock played a huge part. For example, the plot follows identical trends to Shadow Of A Doubt as it focuses on the lives of a traumatized family that exposes dark secrets; not to mention one of the main characters from both films share the same forename. Stoker lacks originality regarding build-up of narrative structure but progressively with the aid of Hitchcock-like suspense, it becomes a newly creative and impressive climax. Furthermore, Stoker contains Hitchcock-like techniques through filming style, particularly editing. The film’s suspense is mostly down to the quick-cuts between multiple character shots which, therefore, create further entrapment for them as well as the audience. On a similar note, Stoker reflects a lot on psychoanalysis, like Hitchcock. The film displays psychological damage following troubled past and present incidents, which became another strong point.
Despite Stoker uses various Hitchcock methods and, whether this is relevant or not includes a little reference to Bram Stoker from the film’s title, Chan-wook’s work paid off and he displayed his own contributions to it. In certain incidences, Chan-wook pays homage to the horror genre and represents its traditional conventions. For example, Stoker is set in a large house outside a forest, which are the two prime horror locations, and they create a surreal, menacing touch. In addition, the mise-en-scéne, particularly the plain character costume design and atmosphere within the mansion, create an uncomfortable impression that they reveal a lot about the characters and in which the audience are waiting for something menacing to occur. The only issues with Stoker are that the pacing mid-way through the film seemed somewhat flat and slightly lost its chilling tone. Also, horror films are the centre of shocking plot twists but Stoker aimed to have one but unfortunately, it was clichéd and not very thought-provoking.
In some ways, Mia Wasikowska portrayed India similarly to Alice In Wonderland. Her character in Stoker is different but it is the approach that makes them similar. While Wasikowska’s pale, plain features did not work in Alice In Wonderland, they certainly did in Stoker. Over the years, we have seen multiple traumatised teenagers trapped within themselves and society. Wasikowska’s role as India was impressive as she added an even more chilling, bitter effect in a similar performance to Sissy Spacek in Carrie. Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman portrayed India’s unstable mother Evelyn. Kidman, known for her role in past horror film The Others, appears both physically striking and cold but the character of Evelyn displays mental instability. In fact, Kidman has slowly been drifting off the Hollywood map but her performance in Stoker is her best in a while. Matthew Goode was convincing in the role of Charlie Stoker. The aim of this character was to appear charming with a mysterious, scheming personality. In fact, the message behind the characters is that anybody can become anything following a traumatic event.
Although Stoker lacks originality within plot, the implication of Hitchcock’s references worked in its favour and mixed convincingly. Horrors and thrillers in this era are becoming repetitive with level of suspense, plot and character types but Stoker genuinely mixes conventions of both classic and modern thriller. It is not a scary film as such but it is a suspenseful, gripping ride. Finally, Park Chan-wook’s English language debut has begun impressively and now that he has succeeded with Stoker, he deserves to produce more Hollywood features.