EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 3, 2013

Curiously absurd and intriguingly disturbing, 'Stoker' somehow works

GREG VELLANTE
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Sometimes mystery is a wonderful, especially in film.

The intrigue of not knowing something but yearning to do so can power one through even the most frustrating of films via a constant craving to just know what the hell is going on.

“Stoker” is one of these films. A mysterious key is given to India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) on her 18th birthday, shortly after her father’s death.

A mysterious relative whom India has never met named Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) shows up at the funeral and begins staying with India and her emotionally unbalanced mother (Nicole Kidman).

Mysterious intentions, desires, and situations drive the film through every unusual corner until it finally arrives at a powerhouse conclusion that, quite frankly, leaves much of the mystery left to the interpretation of the beholder.

Here is one of “Stoker’s” strong suits: the ability to leave the audience hanging in suspense even when the credits start to roll.

As for “Stoker’s” not-so-strong suits, the script is a decent place to start, regardless of all the aforementioned mystery. With a screenplay by Wentworth Miller (the lead of the now-completed TV show “Prison Break”) and a debut one at that, the script is rough, scene after scene after scene. Sure, it’s a crafty plot with interesting characters, but the cuckoo-twisted levels this movie ultimately reaches can only be described as, well, very silly.

In the hands of most filmmakers, I firmly believe that “Stoker” would have been a head-scratcher and an absolute disaster. It still had me scratching my head, for sure, but in the hands of South Korean director Chan-wook Park (in his first American feature), “Stoker” is elevated to new heights.

Through ingenious editing, gorgeous composition, and frightening juxtaposition of sounds and images, Park turns “Stoker” into a perversely entertaining trip almost unworthy of its ridiculous roots.

“Stoker” is a curiosity — an interesting American debut for Park, an odd acting turn for Wasikowska and Kidman (and Goode is quite menacing in his role, I must admit). In the end, viewers are left with the burning question, “What on earth did I just watch?”

I’m still not sure I have a clear-cut answer to that question, as “Stoker” isn’t too keen on providing lucidity to its final minutes. Which works. Because “Stoker” dug its way inside my brain, even hours after viewing. That’s a testament to its lasting power even if I can’t fully explain why that lasting power exists.

What a bizarre and bold film this is indeed.