Can a movie succeed on mood and tension alone? Stoker attempts that feat and partially succeeds. Great performances in two critical roles overcome some of inherent limitations in dialogue and story. It is a stylish film that cannot be easily categorized into any singular genre. Elements of drama, mystery and horror combine for a look at twisted family dynamics via the Stokers. Korean director Park Chan-wook, a legend in international cinema for Oldboy and other films in his Vengeance Trilogy, takes a very dark coming-of-age tale and twists it into an eerie, haunting movie.
Working off a script written by actor Wentworth Miller (star of Prison Break), Stoker focuses its attention on a young girl that has just turned 18, India Stoker. Morbid and dour India is brilliantly played by Mia Wasikowska. India has a cold relationship with her mother, Evie (Nicole Kidman), especially after her beloved father suddenly passes away at the beginning of Stoker. Evie is the hardest character to understand in the film, as Nicole Kidman is given little opportunity to flesh out her personality. While Kidman may be the biggest star in the cast, her character is a necessary but secondary element in the story.
Following the sudden death of India’s father, Richard Stoker, a creepy uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) shows up out of nowhere. India had never heard of him before the funeral and even Evie had barely known of his existence. Charlie immediately ingratiates himself into the lives of India and Evie, explaining he had been traveling the world for years. It’s a thin excuse that seems flimsy, but both mother and daughter seem to buy it as Charlie helps to make up for the absence of Richard. Evie quickly becomes infatuated with Charlie and their relationship develops to a scandalous peak.
The one problem in Stoker is that first hints of Charlie’s true nature take some thirty minutes to develop, which feels unnecessarily padded and slow. However, Goode is absolutely fantastic in the role of the charismatic uncle. He’s perfectly cast as a man with something to hide but charming enough to make one forget.
An odd relationship develops between India and Charlie, even though she suspects sinister motives from her mysterious uncle almost from the beginning. Stoker is really about their relationship and how it develops, as we learn more and more about Charlie’s background and why he was away for so long. What might have been a moody drama under another director turns very dark, as Stoker takes India’s development into a woman on a strange and unpredictable journey. Death, rape and murder become ingredients in the final act’s startling turn of events.
Stoker’s story is built around a mood of tension and morbidity. It’s the rare movie aimed at adults constructed around a teenager’s view of the world. The three lead actors are pitch-perfect in their roles within the Stoker family. The haunting atmosphere of Stoker is greatly enhanced by the careful direction of Park Chan-wook, working in visual language unique to the director. Not everyone will automatically like this movie but Stoker is one of those films you feel the need to discuss afterwards, for an emotional release.
An increasingly rare bird these days for a new Hollywood release, Stoker was shot in the Super 35 film format. Its stylish cinematography is built around a lavish visual style, fostered by a close collaboration between Park Chan-wook and his longtime D.P., Chung Chung-hoon. The 2.40:1-framed production has an exotic composition, enhancing distinct visuals. Picture quality at 1080P is not quite on par with the latest reference discs, but it does have a well-rounded set of attributes which avoids significant problems.
The AVC encode for the main feature, averaging over 30 Mbps, handles the largely clean print without a hitch. A very fine grain structure is retained which looks untouched by serious filtering or sharpening. It is possible some minute digital tinkering has been selectively applied in a few scenes, but the picture is organically pristine without aberrations. A whiff of aliasing in a couple of shots is the only notable artifact that really deviates from an untouched transfer, but that is likely due to the FX used in a few scenes.
The picture itself is sharp as a tack with a fully saturated color palette, though Stoker mostly utilizes restraint in the brighter primary colors. Ultra-fine resolution at the pixel level is just a notch behind the best demo discs. For a drama, exterior shots have a very good depth of field and excellent shadow delineation. Inky black levels and a steady contrast help to define the visual style of Stoker.
Stoker looks great for a drama, though the flatter lighting of its interior action prevents a perfect score. Aside from the flashier moments in the cinematography, there is an uninvolving aspect to the video quality.
Stoker has a very deliberate and subtle sound design, presented in its lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The surround channels are filled with sly sonic details that create a rich atmosphere and mood from the foley effects. It is not an overtly bombastic presentation like many action films, but the orchestral score adds an appropriate amount of tension to each scene. Dialogue is well-recorded and clean, even when the characters have to whisper in hushed tones. The soundtrack nicely incorporates Lee Hazlewood’s and Nancy Sinatra’s kitschy Pop classic, “Summer Wine,” into one of Stoker’s most pivotal scenes.
Fox has absolutely loaded this BD with dubbed soundtracks and subtitles in a multitude of languages. The three primary dubs are an English 5.1 Descriptive Audio soundtrack, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, and French 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles include: English (SDH), Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese (Cantonese), Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Croatian, Czech, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Malay, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Serbian, Slovene, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese.
20th Century Fox has given Stoker a sizable number of bonus features for a film that came and went at the box office, considering the director doesn’t speak English. The most important extra is clearly the 27-minute documentary, which gives important context for why Stoker turned out the way it did. A UV copy is included that redeems in HDX on VUDU.
Deleted Scenes (10:01 in HD) – Three scenes that were either cut from the movie or extensions of the final cut.
Stoker: A Filmmaker’s Story (27:50 in HD) – An engaging documentary on multiple aspects of Stoker’s production. Director Park Chan-wook’s illuminating comments are translated into English by subtitles. Most of the cast and crew share their insights and experiences on Stoker, including star Nicole Kidman.
Photography by Mary Ellen Mark (11:15 in HD) – A series of extensive still photographs presented as an image gallery, which can be manually advanced or set on auto-advance.
London Theater Design (02:35 in HD) – More still photographs, this time featuring the set and prop design in London.
Theatrical Behind-The-Scenes (02:55, 03:33, 03:28, 03:02, 02:39 in HD) – Five production featurettes, largely cut-down pieces from the longer making-of documentary on this BD. They are too short to impart much detail and add little new information to the full-length documentary.
Red Carpet Footage (15:38 in HD) – Word-less footage of the Korean premiere, set to music.
“Becomes The Color” by Emily Wells (04:46 in HD) – A live music performance from the premiere.
Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots (03:48 in HD)
Trailers for these other movies (10:22 in HD): The East, The Blu-ray Experience, Trance, Hitchcock, Phantom, The Oranges.
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