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Sundance Review: Silly & Cartoonish 'Stoker' Is A Garish Misfire For Park Chan-Wook

Reviews
by Rodrigo Perez
January 21, 2013 5:05 AM
57 Comments
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*Warning: Mild spoilers ahead.*

One could argue there's nothing subtle about the movies made by South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook, the director behind "Oldboy," including the celebrated Vengeance Trilogy and the loopy vampire movie, "Thirst." Violence reigns in his films, cameras pirouette like self-conscious characters in his ensemble, and style is king. But in the past, especially in "Oldboy" and "Sympathy For Lady Vengeance," his penchant for the outrageous and over-the-top always included sublime, comically brutal and sometimes even emotionally devastating conclusions that could leave the jaw agape. Style was always in service of a story and characters.

But all his worst tendencies for the histrionic and overly operatic are on utterly garish display in the overwrought and tonally poisoned "Stoker." There's myriad problems evinced within the picture, starting with a familiar and often painful script by Wentworth Miller that holds no mystery, suspense or surprise (or at least that's how it's constructed on screen, which is odd for a thriller). Stylized to death, "Stoker" is so hermetically sealed and clinical in its visual presentation that it sucks what little life it possesses out of the room with the repeated violent woosh of unnecessary swish pans. Worse, the movie carries plenty of random and absurd nonsense that doesn't seem to fit.

The talented Mia Wasikowska plays India Stoker, a sullen, Emily The Strange goth caricature who's special. She hears what others don't, but the film can't decide if it means that literally or figuratively in her opening expository voiceover. Coming from a family of wealth and means, life changes suddenly for India when her father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) suddenly and mysteriously dies. Her chilly mom, Evie (Nicole Kidman), is in mourning for about 30 seconds, and then at the funeral, a long-lost uncle that India never knew she had, Charlie (Matthew Goode), materializes out of nowhere. Oily and unctuous, Goode and the film pretty much make no bones about the fact that this creepy figure is the antagonist of the picture, and therefore likely involved in the no-one-can-explain-it "accidental" death of her father.  The post-funeral sequences are the most painful, if only because every whispered line of dialogue from the gossipy maids and guests serves to be the most obvious and overt form of exposition.

As the superficially charming and overly lousy Charlie (who has a creepy pederast smile on his face for the entire movie) inveigles his way into their home, India sulks. And when Charlie and Evie flirt, drink wine together and go off on day trips together, India starts to become suspicious and starts to dig around for little clues that will unveil themselves later in the film. Charlie wants to be friends with India, but the distrustful girl is not having it. At school, the introverted India is bullied by the uber-cliched asshole jock (Lucas Till), but luckily is saved by the slightly less cliché sensitive Marlon Brando type (Alden Ehrenreich). Harmony Korine plays an art teacher for half a second for some reason. Aunt Ginnie (Jacki Weaver) shows up, seemingly desperate to talk to Evie in private, but soon, she mysteriously disappears.

In a Hitchcock film, this murder would be accomplished with ominous hints, but in a Park Chan-wook film, she's killed loud and clear by Charlie in bloody fashion (for some reason, Charlie seems fascinated with his dead brother's belt, so this becomes his weapon of choice). While, we're here, let's put a moratorium on violent, animal-kingdom-like footage on TV sets in the background moments before someone is obviously going to be killed – "Stoker" is like a teenager that can't keep a secret and telegraphs every move from a mile away. And the film goes on and on like this going from just plain silly and laughably absurd to cartoonish and excruciating in its final overkill act.

Victorian Gothic in flavor, "Stoker" is Hitchcock's "Shadow Of A Doubt" on the type of steroids that make WWE wrestlers murder their families out of nowhere. This is not a compliment. Beyond being ridiculous, logic just seems to fail "Stoker" at times. The Stoker family lives in a magnificently-kept mansion, but their basement where the ice-cream is stored is apparently the dungeon from some "Saw"-esque horror movie, awash with freaky lights and all. Why Nicole Kidman's lounging room looks like the botanical garden from a David Lynch movie is a mystery. And why she announces out of nowhere that she's going to the hair dresser's and then comes back with a shorn hairdo is a riddle for the ages that will never be solved.

When the movie is still somewhat of a mystery, India discovers the head of the maid in the freezer -- the same maid that she saw Charlie threatening earlier in the movie, but of course, she doesn't say anything (uhhhh…). Early on, Evie tells India she's teaching Charlie beginner piano, but the girl doesn't flinch two scenes later when she and Charlie are having their (rather hilarious) Chopin-esque piano-off. Alden Ehrenreich's good-guy character inexplicably becomes Lucas Till's asshole character and tries to rape India, seemingly because the script couldn't figure out how to place Till's character at the scene. Magically, Charlie appears to rescue her, and the brutal killing of the teenager is the point-of-no-return moment where the film goes from bad to downright terrible (we won't totally spoil it, but after this sequence India is involved the most ludicrous, unintentionally hysterically funny masturbation scene we can recall).

"Stoker" is beyond help at this point, and only gets worse and worse as Charlie's true backstory is revealed, the logic goes out the window, and the visual chaos and soapy melodrama overwhelm the offended senses. While "Stoker" is full of good actors (Kidman and Wasikowska in particular), no one has anything to do but scowl, glower or smile like they just got out of the loony bin. The risible "Stoker" is a brutally empty, deeply unfortunate movie, and Park Chan-wook's jackhammer of a tool he calls a brush is, on this evidence, something that should be locked away. [D-]

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57 Comments

  • Ruby | April 22, 2014 10:09 PMReply

    This review was so satisfying to read! Stoker was the most pretentious, confused and unintentionally absurd film I have seen in a very long time. I was left astounded at how on earth it got to production stage...I suppose it just shows what kind of stuff can get through when you have some big names on board.

  • Matthew | May 16, 2013 8:27 PMReply

    I finally got around to reading this review. Forget whether the reviewer liked or didn't like the film, the review is really poorly written and way too literal in it's focus for what "Stoker" is dishing out. I suggest trying to send a reviewer to a film who has the mental equipment to at least relate somewhat to what's going on. You don't send a man to do a boy's job.

  • Jacque | July 19, 2013 10:59 PM

    The old "you didn't get it."

    >> You don't send a man to do a boy's job.

    Please. This is a movie review, not cutting down a Redwood.

  • dori prnce | April 14, 2013 11:48 AMReply

    The worst use of Mia's talent imaginable! What a dog of a film. No suspense or entertainment value. Nicole Kidman should retire if this is the only kind of role she can get at this point.
    I want my money back! Thumbs down.

  • profoundly sad, also rabidly angry | March 20, 2013 10:30 PMReply

    i'm trying not to take this review personally because i loved this film, but it's not working and I kind of hate you a little bit.

  • Demo | February 22, 2013 8:00 PMReply

    Spot on, just seen this Film in The Dublin Film Festival- complete and utter rubbish.an excellent review

  • Craig | February 9, 2013 10:30 PMReply

    Rodrigo. I can't wait for your review of Spike Lee's 'Oldboy.'

  • Craig | February 7, 2013 10:44 PMReply

    Rodrigo. Rodrigo. PCW films explore themes with surrealism. Watch his 2011 short 'Paranmanjang' ('Night Fishing'). If his films don't speak to you, then your D- is correct

  • Craig | February 7, 2013 10:42 PMReply

    Rodrigo. Rodrigo. PCW films explores themes with surrealism. Watch his 2009 short 'Paranmanjang' ('Night Fishing'). If his films don't speak to you, then your D- is correct.

  • John | January 28, 2013 1:06 AMReply

    It's one thing to disagree, and maybe get upset with a review, but it's another to spam and list positive reviews like it's actually going to erase the negative reviews. Fan boys are delusional at times.

  • Victoria | January 25, 2013 2:53 PMReply

    It almost seems personal... I think it's a great movie and very well written.

  • Balls In Your Mouth | January 24, 2013 11:06 PMReply

    this movie was like balls in your mouth.

  • Alan B | January 25, 2013 9:00 AM

    So you enjoyed it, then?

  • grant | January 24, 2013 10:47 PMReply

    I agree more or less with your thoughts on the film. There was not a single character to empathize or relate to. I loved the style of the film, but the script was just terrible at bringing you onboard. I actually thought that the movie finally got interesting after the masturbatory scene, thats the real film, but the pre-amble was so impossible to get on board with, that by the time i arrived there I was not interested.

  • J.W.Lee | January 23, 2013 2:13 AMReply

    Park Chan Wook once said at a meeting with fans in Korea that one of his goal in making a film is to make the audiences feel as uncomfortable as possible watching it. Almost to a point where it leaves bad taste in your mouth. After reading your review, I believe that once again Park has done his job.

  • Jacque | July 19, 2013 11:05 PM

    What a ridiculous thing to say.

  • Lumen | January 23, 2013 1:20 AMReply

    100% on RottenTomatoes (with 6 reviews, average rating : 9/10).

  • The Equalizer | January 24, 2013 11:05 PM

    This review would kill the grade dead. Also, he's right. This movie was laughable balls.

  • Andy | January 22, 2013 12:21 AMReply

    Too much spoiler. You're aware that the movie is not opened yet, right? Annoying.

    And the writing sucks.

  • Alan | January 21, 2013 11:25 PMReply

    What a wonderfully written review, you should be proud. 'It's crap because it's terrible because it's crap because ... um, Alden Ehrenreich does something in the second half'. Whilst spoilers are suitable for other forms of extended criticism, it is inappropriate to include them into a festival piece just because you don't have any interesting observations to make.

  • Jacque | July 19, 2013 11:01 PM

    He did explain why the inconsistent actions by the characters, in his mind, made the movie poor.

  • Jimmy Johnson | January 21, 2013 5:18 PMReply

    Although your review may be of merit, your reference to the Chris Benoit murder/suicide is absurd and uncalled for.

  • Lumen | January 21, 2013 5:04 PMReply

    Another rave, from HeyUGuys : "In the many years that I have been coming to this Festival, not once have I ever seen a film that floored me enough to make me want to attend subsequent viewings [...] On whole Stoker stands as a masterpiece, delivering thrills as chilling as Psycho, and cementing the idea that Park Chan-Wook really is the Hitchcock for a new generation of moviegoers. [5/5]"

  • d | January 21, 2013 5:51 PM

    Lumen, what are you trying to prove? That Perez's opinion is "wrong?" Yes, he dislikes a movie that others happen to like. So what?

  • wes | January 21, 2013 4:38 PMReply

    You know, I read the other reviews and, while they are mostly positive, they also point out some things that Perez didn't like. It's not like he watched a different movie, folks. He just didn't like it. I have read all of the reviews everyone is mentioning and I am still siding with Perez because he points out things I don't like about Park Chan-wook's movies. I like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Thirst, but I couldn't care less about Oldboy and Lady Vengeance (for much of the same reasons it seems Perez doesn't like Stoker). It might not be as hard to dislike a Chan-wook movie as y'all think!

  • Jan | January 21, 2013 4:17 PMReply

    This movie is a piece of art, Stylish, sinister, graceful, well-acted and the visuals are pure poetry.
    This review doesn´t make any sense. Just go and find yourself a job Rodrigo

  • JP | January 21, 2013 2:20 PMReply

    This "review" is nothing but blatant spoilers drenched in third-grade nanny-nanny-boo-boo bitterness. I thought a site like this had high standards, but guess not. And no, I'm no PCW fanboy in the slightest.

  • Lumen | January 21, 2013 2:01 PMReply

    So far we have 7 positive reviews (from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The Guardian, Screendaily, Fangoria, HitFix, Indiewire) and 1 negative one (from "Rodrigo Perez").

  • Lumen | January 22, 2013 7:15 AM

    The NY Post, Collider, JoBlo, HeyUGuys, Exclaim and Hollywood.com also gave it great reviews. So that's 13 positive, 3 negative (81% positive).

  • FANBOY SQUAD | January 22, 2013 12:55 AM

    /Film just gave this a bad review too.

  • Fanboy Squad? | January 21, 2013 11:26 PM

    "we" is that like a team or something? The fanboy squad?

  • Lumen | January 21, 2013 4:17 PM

    @D : So "Stoker" got 78% positive reviews so far :)

  • d | January 21, 2013 3:38 PM

    2 negative: The Playlist & Time Out London

  • yer | January 21, 2013 1:40 PMReply

    I didn't know Park had so many fanboys. I actually think it's Kidman's fanboys trying to justify another crap film by her.

  • Lumen | January 21, 2013 2:02 PM

    You should read the reviews from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter...

  • Oogle monster | January 21, 2013 12:59 PMReply

    Wow, I didn't expect it to suck THIS much. Really really disappointed. Twitter seems to be divided, but this is the most extreme reaction I've read (I don't trust Wells judgement on anything as he is a ball of hyperbole). The trailers were pretty damn amazing- I honestly thought this would be a return to form for Kidman and co. Too damn bad.

  • d | January 21, 2013 3:39 PM

    @Julia, Time Out London is very negative.

  • JUlia | January 21, 2013 1:03 PM

    This is the only bad review. The reviews of IndieWire, THR, HitFix, Variety, Fangoria are all positive and raves.

  • wes | January 21, 2013 12:57 PMReply

    fucking fanboys!

  • Z | January 21, 2013 12:40 PMReply

    "tendencies for the histrionic and overly operatic..."

    Hmm. You mean, like the Gothic tradition? To which STOKER (being inspired by BRAM STOKER, of DRACULA fame) firmly belongs?

    Chan-Wook's style is both appropriate and, indeed, stylish for this genre.

  • Richard Schitz | January 21, 2013 11:08 AMReply

    What a piss poor review...

  • AE | January 21, 2013 10:46 AMReply

    The film may be bad, but your reviews are worse, I mean talk about overwrought and plot heavy.

  • Anne | January 21, 2013 10:36 AMReply

    Thanx for the spoiler. If Rodrigo Perez snubbed the movie, it means that will be AMAZING.

  • 34567 | January 21, 2013 10:20 AMReply

    " logic goes out the window, and the visual chaos and soapy melodrama overwhelm the offended senses" -- Oldboy, anyone? It's all a matter of taste. Some like the grotesque sillyness Park Chan Wook offers up, some don't. Yes, this is a terribly written review, but -- to my tastes -- surely accurate

  • Mr Anonymous | January 21, 2013 10:16 AMReply

    Very annoyed with the spoilers! Jesus Christ! What is wrong with you people? Do you not know simple, basic, common sense etiquette when it comes to reviewing movies? No point in going to watch it now you've basically given away and told us almost EVERYTHING!!!!

    Absolutely shocking reviews like this are allowed to be printed without being double checked first by someone in charge.

  • Mike | January 21, 2013 10:05 AMReply

    Avoid this review at all costs; riddled with spoilers and a preconceived bias. Might want to think about quitting the day job Rodrigo!

  • Miguel | January 21, 2013 8:54 AMReply

    This kind of review happens when you, The Playlist, send someone like Rodrigo Pérez to Sundance. Why didn't you send someone like Kevin, Cain or Joen? I want to see this movie reviewed again.

  • LUI | January 21, 2013 8:50 AMReply

    What´s wrong with you guys!?!?! A D-??? LMFAO!! To all The Playlist readers, go and read Guy Lodge´s review for Variety, that guy knows how to write a decent review

  • A | January 21, 2013 8:34 AMReply

    Spoil much? Thanks a lot.

  • mpbstereo | January 21, 2013 8:27 AMReply

    I can't help but wonder if there is some resentment at work in this review, all of The Playlist's prior articles on Stoker seemed to champion the film on speculation alone.

    Tempered expectations go a long way.

  • edt005 | January 21, 2013 7:06 AMReply

    Erm, SPOILER ALERT?! You give away about a million plot points in the review. All of the other reviews manage to sketch out the basics and still give a decent opinion on the movie.

  • Jim | January 21, 2013 6:54 AMReply

    A rave from Variety : "a splendidly demented gumbo of Hitchcock thriller, American Gothic fairy tale and a contemporary kink all Park's own."

  • Jim | January 21, 2013 6:45 AMReply

    [D-] ? That's weird. So far, "Stoker" got good/great reviews from IndieWire (Eric Kohn), Screendaily, Fangoria and The Hollywood Reporter.

  • caro | January 21, 2013 9:55 AM

    apparently the reviews are very "love or hate": some people think very esthetic or too esthetic, the movie is grotesque in the good way or in the bad way,not subtle or grandiose

  • paul | January 21, 2013 6:38 AMReply

    this review is extremely simplicistic...
    you are not supposed to compare this kind of movies in traditional ones..

    Park chan wook is not easy...not for all...not for you...

  • gert | January 21, 2013 6:04 AMReply

    d- ? seriously ? even movies like piranha 3d get better scores :)

  • emily | January 21, 2013 5:32 AMReply

    To quote Cher Horowitz "That was way harsh".

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