Stoker had always been a bit of a mystery to me based the promotional material. At times, it seemed like a Carrie-esque mother/daughter power struggle. At other times, it seemed like a darker version of Leon: The Professional. In the end, it’s a bit of both with a hefty injection of the sudden violence of Drive and the visual artistry of The Tree of Life. I was very impressed with the performances here by Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska, the former of which I had never even heard of before this movie. I also thought the story was as compelling as it was unpredictable, even if it takes a little while to get off the ground. There were a couple elements that I thought would develop into clichés, but one by one each of those clichés was broken in an increasingly brutal fashion. The movie really does make you feel like you’re watching something you truly haven’t seen before; something which it seems like fewer and fewer movies are able to accomplish nowadays.
I’ve never made an effort to hide the fact that I don’t really care for heavily symbolic art house film making. As a movie critic, I recognize that admitting this fact opens me up to all sorts of comments regarding how I didn’t understand a director’s message, or how it went way over my head. When I cited this reason to explain my intense dislike for the ending scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, that’s exactly what happened. In spite of that, I’m going to continue to be honest here. Any time someone describes a movie as “beautifully shot”, I picture an abundance of cryptic voice overs paired with random evocative imagery. Stoker is filled with this kind of device, and occasionally it works very well. More often than not, however, it feels like director Chan-Woo Park is breaking into a sort of cinematic slam poetry. I’m not saying it’s not interesting or well done, I just typically enjoy anything that tries this hard to prove how artistic it is. Then again, what other response would you expect from a left-brained movie reviewer?
Even with my issues regarding the Avant Garde filming style, I wouldn’t consider Stoker a “bad” movie. In fact, I’d say that between the artistic depth and the predictability-defying plot, Stoker is an impressive film; it’s just an impressive film that will not connect with most audiences. If you’re a fan of highly symbolic, abstract film making and okay with an extremely dark tone, this is one you won’t want to miss. If not, then you’ll probably end up being frustrated by the movie’s initially deliberate pacing and conspicuous stylization.
The Verdict: 7.0/10 – Good
+ Truly disturbing performances by Wasikowska and Goode
+ An absorbingly dark plot that defies predictability
– The heavy use of symbolism and overal art house feel didn’t connect with me at all
– There are a lot of things left unexplained, particularly the bizarre ending
Rotten Tomatoes: 67 %
Rhino’s Horror: 86/100
Cinematic Corner: 85/100
Keith and the Movies: 4/5
Black Sheep Reviews: 4/5
Keith and the Movies: 4/5
Fast Film Reviews: 2/5
Average: 7.7/10 – Superior