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Sundance Review and Roundup: Park Chan-Wook's Creepy 'Stoker'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 21, 2013 at 6:11PM

There's a risk every time a noted foreign filmmaker takes a stab at an English-language movie. Clearly, Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook ("Old Boy") knows his Hollywood history: he admits that Alfred Hitchcock not only inspired him to become a filmmaker but that "Psycho," "Shadow of a Doubt," and "The Trouble With Harry" creeped into archetypal thriller "Stoker," which is based on actor-writer Wentworth Miller's script.
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There's a risk every time a noted foreign filmmaker takes a stab at an English-language movie. Clearly, Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook ("Old Boy") knows his Hollywood history: he admits that Alfred Hitchcock not only inspired him to become a filmmaker but that "Psycho," "Shadow of a Doubt," and "The Trouble With Harry" creeped into archetypal thriller "Stoker," which is based on actor-writer Wentworth Miller's script.

Park chose his project cannily: "Stoker" is a simple, straightforwardly universal gothic fable that will play across many cultures. In his introduction in Park City Sunday, Park actually called this coming-of-age story a "fairy tale." Visually and aurally, in terms of the music, sound design and editing, the movie is gorgeous. But some of the iconography is too on-the-nose: saddle shoes, spike heels, insects etc.

The actors do their best with the material, especially Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska, who suddenly lose their husband and father (Dermot Mulroney) in a car accident and are both attracted to a mysterious Uncle (Matthew Goode) who materializes soon after their husband/father dies. But they don't have much to work with. The plot is all-too predictable.

It's tempting to wonder what the film would have been like with Colin Firth in the Uncle played by Goode, who makes a sexy but cardboard villain. He might have brought some depth; he may have figured out why he didn't want to do the role.

Fox Searchlight may be able to sell this high-end horror feature on its top flight elements, but I worry that's it's a 'tweener--not smart-house and not mainstream genre either. Critics may not be kind. See a Sundance sampling below.

This article is related to: Reviews, Sundance Film Festival, Stoker, Chan-wook Park, Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Nicole Kidman


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.