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Beauty is in the eye of the Stoker



From the opening credits, it’s obvious Stoker is an imaginative looking film. Unlike 95% of movies made, South Korean Chan-wook Park makes the most of the visual medium with exceptionally well-designed costumes, sets and shots that create a creepy storybook atmosphere akin to Edward Gorey illustrations and Mark Ryden paintings. Yet the imagery remains believable since its not as overly stylized as Tim Burton and Wes Anderson films.

Ironically, while not looking like a typical Hollywood release, the film owes much of its camera angles, tone, and content to Alfred Hitchcock. Anyone well versed in the Hitch catalog knows there’s bound to be trouble when a character is introduced as Uncle Charlie.

Stoker focuses on the tension between said Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), his teenaged niece (Mia Wasikowska), and her recently widowed mother (Nicole Kidman, whose facial plastic-surgery adds to her character). The three leads play it cool enough to be ambiguous but not cold enough for the audience to lose interest. However the supporting characters portryed by Dermot Mulroney and Jacki Weaver are warm enough to evoke empathy.

As a psychological thriller, the movie works very well with dark mind-games being played subtly below the pretty surface. But when the action becomes more physical than cerebral, the story loses its edge and becomes borderline campy instead of effectively creepy, and despite its fresh look, Stoker winds up being a familiar murder movie.

Even though the film loses steam near the end, the majority of it is still more original than most releases and it definitely has superior direction and cinematography than say Alexander Payne and Nebraska, which were Oscar-nominated in both categories when Stoker and Park were clearly more deserving. In other words, regardless of its flaws, Stoker is worth seeing.

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