Stoker (Fox Searchlight Pictures, R)

film stoker_smStoker is one of those movies that’s boring and vaguely irritating most of the way through.

 

film stoker_500

While I admire Nicole Kidman on the whole, up there in the “unfair resentments” category, I’ve been getting impatient with her lately, and her insistence to work with every talented director on the planet. I mean, that is of course totally unfair of me, and if nothing else it proves that she’s a smart actress with great taste—see her roles in films by Lars Von Trier (Dogville) or Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut), or, for newer models, try Noah Baumbach (Margot at the Wedding) Lee Daniels (The Paperboy), or Gus Van Sant (To Die For), or the fact that she was long attached to star in what was to be Wong Kar-wai’s first English-language film (The Lady from Shanghai, though that project fell apart years ago). She’s a fine actress, but perhaps doesn’t have the range that all of these great roles would require of her—and even if she had somewhat better range, it might be nice from time to time to see someone new in this type of role anyway.

Her latest conquest on this front is Stoker, South Korean director Chan-wook Park’s English-language debut. You probably know Park from his Vengeance trilogy, the most noteworthy entry among those three films being 2003’s Oldboy. Stoker is a sort-of update of the classic Hitchcock thriller Shadow of a Doubt (which, honestly, I’ve always thought was overrated among Hitchcock’s oeuvre), and was written by Wentworth Miller, who, yes, is the dude from TV’s Prison Break.

The film concerns the Stoker family, hence the title, which at the beginning of the film is reduced to two: matriarch Evelyn (Kidman) and her teenaged daughter India (Mia Wasikowska, who still hasn’t outgrown the “looks like a young Claire Danes” thing). The patriarch has been killed in a dubious-looking car crash, and around the time of his funeral, his heretofore unheard-of brother, Charles (Matthew Goode), shows up, all ready to fill the deceased’s shoes in terms of seducing Evelyn and providing a father figure to India. Stoker is really India’s movie—she’s quiet but smart and potentially dangerous, as witnessed in her interactions with her peers at high school. (Her character’s 18, though—isn’t that a little old to be bullied when you’re in school?)

Stoker is one of those movies that’s boring and vaguely irritating most of the way through. It’s pretty slow and dry, the acting is stilted, the sound effects are goofy and up way too loud in the mix, etc. The last 10 minutes, though, are pretty cool, so by the time you leave the theater, you might be thinking, “Well, maybe I liked that movie after all…”

All the same, it’s hard not to be disappointed in it given the film’s pedigree. Park isn’t the most reliable Korean filmmaker out there (I’d probably give that honor to Lee Chang-dong—go get him, Nicole!), but when he’s on he’s on. Stoker is perhaps the most middle-of-the-road movie he’s ever done; even his past failures have been interesting failures, rather than out-and-out disasters. I’m also amazed that the film isn’t elevated more by Clint Mansell’s score. Mansell has to be the most underrated film composer working today (his Requiem for a Dream is my favorite film score of the past 20 years, easy), but he seems to rarely get work outside of Darren Aronofsky. His score for Stoker is functional, but not memorable; the same thing can be said for the rest of the movie. | Pete Timmermann

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