We’re here to talk about Stoker, the new Fox Searchlight feature from Park Chan-wook. Chan-wook is the director of Old Boy and the Vengeance trilogy among other titles (many of which I am admittedly unfamiliar), but you shouldn’t expect the outright manic power of Old Boy. Stoker is a more subtle, suspense driven tale of a murderer, his lover(s) and a strange set of relationships that form a pattern of homicidal love and devotion. The best way to think of Stoker is to imagine Natural Born Killers without the Oliver Stone, add in some bleak Pride and Prejudice period shit (though it is set the modern day) and then massage in a wee bit of Bonnie and Clyde. How does all of that jumble together into a movie? Does that even make sense, and how can it possibly work?
Stoker was not my cup of treacle. I expected a more brutal picture; a story less of characters than of mystery and mental illness rather than a well calculated homicidal love story. I don’t spoil movies, and don’t plan to delve into the plot points in depth beyond the previous, Fox Searchlight provided synopsis and trailer, but when I want to watch a tale of horror, I want to be horrified. Sure, I want to love or hate the protagonist or antagonist (and that all depends on which era the murderer is from I suppose), but I want to feel uptight. Stoker didn’t pinch my shoulders together worrying, ass un-clenched, teeth also un-clenched, knuckles… not so white. Considering it was not the director’s intent to horrify me, he has made been successful in making a very watchable picture. Just not the one I wanted to see.
Let me reiterate that the movie isn’t bad at all. Let’s be clear that the name Stoker does not imply that it truly has any relation to the father of Dracula, dear old Bram. It should be treated as “one who stokes”. Detach it from the horror fan iconography and you stand a chance at watching this movie with a fresh, young mind. Stoker has been equated to a Hitchcock film, specifically drawing from Shadow of a Doubt, a movie with which I am unfamiliar but am sure to check out sooner now that I have seen Stoker. For all the reference and comparison to a work of Hitchcock, I’m afraid the modern sensibilities and acting style detract from the entertainment value of the picture. It lacks Hitch’s scene set up and lighting or the beautiful crisp Technicolor that over power my libido. A suspense picture? Certainly, but I’m afraid that Chan-wook is simply not Hitchcock (not that he ever claimed to be).
If you enjoy suspense films, you may like Stoker. It’s an exceptionally beautiful Blu-ray (but it ain’t Technicolor of course). Fox Searchlight generally creates magnificent discs like this and fans of that type of media are going to use this as their subdued centerpiece. This movie isn’t in your face. It’s sitting on your shoulder whispering and occasionally nibbling your ear. Somewhat erotic, not so much eerie or creepy or scary, but unnerving (if you can still get unnerved after watching movies like A Serbian Film). I would not recommend Stoker to out and out horror nuts. It’s not a gore picture or a blood soaker. It’s not a vampire film. It is quietly unsettling, and since there’s not a whole lot of that going around, I think it’s got a place at the table, but I’ll pass on seconds.