The answers to these questions are—no and sort of. The story told in this film is as disturbing as his previous films but it is a clearly and drastically different approach. This movie has less violence and it builds suspense. The slow winding up of the suspense in this film recalls Dario Argento but where Argento’s films are dark visually, this one is bright. Even at night the film is never murky, always clear.
The Argento comparison is not really a compliment. Often Argento’s films build suspense that is a let-down in the end. In Stoker the let-down is less pronounced because the buildup is more subtle but it is something of a let-down. When there is such a slow paced, subtle build up, there is bound to be at least some disappointment.
This isn’t to say Stoker is subtle from beginning to end; there are scenes, one at a piano in particular, where you will slap yourself in the forehead and shout “we GET it” about half way through. And this scene isn’t the only one where the symbolism is obvious. There are a few other such moments.
Most of the film, however, reins in these exceses and it looks great. Certainly there are some gimmicky shots in it here and there. These are the sorts of things that worked better in Park’s earlier films than they do here; a slow motion swinging light, changes in angle seem a tad out of place at times. This, however, might be intentional. This is a film that may leave you a little unsatisfied at the end but it will also stick in your mind and keep you thinking about it. The feeling that there is more to it, that there is something missed in it that is almost palpable.
It does a great deal right. It avoids spending too much time on the “strange girl at school” part of the film. A little goes a long way there. There is also some gruesomeness that is left to the imagination which is almost more disturbing.
Nicole Kidman also makes the most of her screen time. No back-story is given for us to see her relationship with her husband (it is giving nothing away to say he dies, as the film opens with his funeral more or less). Yet she conveys what that relationship was in a few lines. She is a vulnerable, hollow woman who doesn’t even know who her own daughter is.
Matthew Goode as the wild eyed performance as the vaguely menacing and mysterious uncle plays the role so we know there is something not right. There is something obviously wrong with him. The audience almost want to say; “Err, ladies, this guy is NUTS.” But that is, again, all part of it.
It is sort of curious that in this film, set in the USA, none of the three principle actors are American. Two Australians and an Englishman are tapped for the roles. What? Daniel Day Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln? Rick on The Walking Dead, Dr. House, The Mentalist and now THIS!
While there is nothing wrong with Wentworth Miller III’s (remember the idiotic show Prison Break? He was on it) screenplay you have to wonder what Park would have done had he written it. This appears to be Wentworth’s first stab at a screenplay so maybe cutting some slack is warranted.
An interesting film, an interesting debut for Park in the USA but not a great movie in any sense but a good movie in almost every sense just the same.