There are more memorable camera moves than characters in “Stoker,” a sensory bombardment of impressive cinematography, shot composition and sound design.
By JON NICCUM
Special to The Star
If only that much craftsmanship went into the script.
This maddening mystery — the first English-language effort from Korean director Chan-wook Park (“Oldboy”) — leans too heavily on its technical elements. It sets up a sinister mood, all right. But to what end? The result is a beguiling debacle that in its best case scenario might achieve cult status … or could just as easily fade into obscurity.
Park teams with writers Wentworth Miller (star of TV’s “Prison Break”) and Erin Cressida Wilson (“Secretary”) to concoct a hipster-meets-Hitchcock tale of bloodlust and creepy long-lost relatives. It’s part “Shadow of a Doubt” and part “Heathers,” and not a lick of it holds up to any scrutiny.
Mia Wasikowska ditches the golden hair of her previous “Alice in Wonderland” for a dark Goth guise as India Stoker. She’s a callous high school loner in the modern South who dresses in Victorian gowns. She also possesses bat-like hearing.
Following the death of her father, she further retreats from the world, barely talking to her radiant-but-icy mother (Nicole Kidman). But then comes Uncle Charles (Matthew Goode of “Watchmen”). Funny that her dad never mentioned having a younger brother, especially one so charming and worldly. But his motives sure seem sketchy.
India asks, “What do you want from me?”
Charles replies, “To be friends.”
“We don’t need to be friends. We’re family,” she says.
Soon, bodies stack up and blood ties get revealed. Will India become a victim or an accomplice?
A movie named “Stoker” can’t help but elicit allusions to “Dracula” author Bram Stoker. So the filmmakers pile on the vampiric subtext. Charles prepares meals of rare meat but never eats. He seems to be everywhere at once. India displays hearing skills to rival the Bionic Woman — which leads to striking clatter from metronomes and egg shells. It’s implied that insects live inside her (remember the cockroach from “Dracula”?). Kisses end with a bloodied bite to the lip.
Yet, these are only an homage to vampires. Teases. They’re not meant to be taken literally, and don’t warrant the attention given to them.
Instead, the plot moves toward more conventional revelations, kept off-kilter by the characters. Which is not to say that the characters are interesting. If anything, they’re one-dimensional.
The 45-year-old Kidman looks beautiful beyond words, yet her absentee mom is given nothing to do. Likewise, Wasikowska’s lead is supposed to be an outcast a la Sissy Spacek from “Carrie.” But Carrie White was a tragic, sympathetic person. India behaves with an above-it-all mopiness, as if she were Kristen Stewart contractually obligated to appear at a “Twilight” fan convention.
Still, cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (a frequent Park collaborator) delivers Oscar-worthy imagery that lingers in the viewer’s mind long after the movie ends.
One shows India brushing her mother’s strawberry-blond hair, which in macro closeup transitions to an overhead view of two hunters crouched in the tall grass of a sunlit field. Another finds India holding a conversation while standing on a spinning playground roundabout, her face hypnotically darting in and out while the focus remains clear.
Thematically, the movie also meanders in circles. Stylistically, those screwy circles prove indelible.
(At the Glenwood Arts, Studio 30 and Tivoli.)