I like strong visual directors, I cannot deny that, but I’m not as massive a fanboy of this director as perhaps some critics are. Park is still best known for the stylish and violent Korean film Oldboy (2003), part of his ‘Vengeance’ trilogy, but perhaps this film will change that. Stoker too is undeniably stylish, and stylised. The look of the film — the costumes, the decor, the hairstyles — is firmly set in the past, a version of the 1950s it seems, despite the occasional appearances of modern technology. This is fitting for a story about a family which is stuck in a violent past, apparently doomed to repeat it.
The performances too are stylised; I think all the actors hit the right tone and do a great job at it. If I have an issue with this film, it’s that it strains really hard (heightened sound effects and colours, chilly modernist music, briefly glimpsed flashbacks) to create a brooding atmosphere filled with myriad possibilities that it can never really deliver on. I was convinced at one point that the mood was building to a pay-off whereby the heroine would kill people using only her mind (she doesn’t). In fact there are plenty of supernatural signifies at play here, so you could be forgiven thinking it’s going to go down that route. Also, despite the implications of the title (which for me points to the author of Dracula), there are no vampires. (Sorry about that, if you consider that a spoiler.)
But as a stylish atmosphere piece, it delivers very well.
Director Park Chan-wook 박찬욱; Writer Wentworth Miller; Cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon 정정훈; Starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode; Length 99 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Tuesday 5 March 2013.