Fanning the flames – ★★★½
First things first, this film isn’t a biography of Bram Stoker, Ireland’s beloved author and the man behind Dracula. Sure you could draw some slight allusions to his very famous vampire in the actions and habits of some of the characters but really we’re clutching at straws here as I draw more comparison with the traditional sense of the word as someone who “tends to the furnace” or “fans the flames” – a troublemaker if you will.
So instead of that biopic of Clontarf’s finest that we’re all craving, Stoker is the story of rather unusual American family headed up by Nicole Kidman as a woman who has just lost her husband in a mysterious accident leaving her behind with their daughter India played by Mia Wasikowska. At the funeral they’re surprised to meet Charles (Matthew Goode), a brother of the deceased who they have never met or heard much from. Charles tells them of his world travels and offers to hang around to offer support at this most difficult time…Director Chan-wook Park is a legend of Asian cinema and best known to Western audiences for his Vengeance trilogy of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. He is a very cerebral film-maker and the images in his films are, for better or worse, incredibly memorable and will stick in your head. His style divides audiences with many feeling he is too fond of directorial tricks and showing what he can do with his camera. There’s nothing in Stoker that will change those people’s minds with countless cool moments and cuts that make you well aware this is a C.W.P. picture. I’ve no problems with his work here though, with everything perfectly framed and looking superb. I have particular fondness for a shot featuring India de-shelling hard-boiled eggs.
So who is the least likely person you’d expect to be submitting a script for Chan-wook Park’s English-language debut? That creepy dude T-Bag from Prison Break? Haha, imagine. Well actually… we’re not far off as Wentworth Miller, the tattooed and handsome lead from the hit series, is the man behind the typewriter on Stoker. How this came about is anyone’s guess but never mind as his first script isn’t half bad. The characters of India and Charles and the chemistry between them is great and become all the more fun as you try to work out who the villain of the piece is. Unfortunately the film kind of goes off the boil in the final third as all the mystery and tension built up seems to evaporate as things are tied up.
Wasikowska is superb as the weird loner whose doesn’t fit into the world around her now that her father (and best friend) are gone. The role is a challenging one as on the surface she must try to remain completely sedate and neutral on the outside as a seething jealousy toward her mother fights against a realisation that the world around her is collapsing. The fantasies she experiences involving a piano and a shower (I’ll say no more) will stick in your mind long after the credits have rolled. This truly is her coming-of-age story and fittingly kicks off on the occasion of her 18th birthday and passageway into adulthood.
So the film features two great performances (Wasikowska and Goode), great editing and sound, looks flawless and features some stellar directing work. And yet sadly there’s just something that stops it all gelling together properly. It’s hard to put a finger on what stops it being a great film rather than just a good one, but there have to be questions over the shifts in tone and plausibility in Miller’s script and the troublesome resolution to the film. It’s still very worthwhile viewing but really should have been so much more.
USA, UK / Directed By: Chan-wook Park / Written By: Wentworth Miller / Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Jacki Weaver / 98min / Thriller, Drama / Release: 1 March 2013 (Ireland, UK, USA, Canada)