Stoker (2013)

stoker1.jpg2016.41: Stoker (Film 4, HD)

Perhaps its a case of the wrong expectations. I was under the (misguided, as it turned out) impression that this was a horror film. Maybe it was the title and its associations with a certain author. Well, its not a horror film- but it is something of a horror.

Style over substance- its something we see so much of now. Maybe its used by film-makers eager to distinguish their films from everything else in the market. I don’t mind it when its used with some kind of restraint, but I do have an issue with it when it interferes with basic storytelling. Terrence Malicks films are ones which I generally enjoy, but he certainly does cross the line sometimes. Likewise David Lynch, although something as genuinely great as his Mulholland Drive certainly benefits from its stylistic extravagances, demonstrating a voice all its own- but then again, it clearly has the substance to back up any stylistic excess.

Stoker, I’m afraid, doesn’t. It’s running-time is interminable; by thirty minutes I was awfully close to giving up on it, which doesn’t happen to me very often. I can usually watch any film, no matter how bad, to the often bitter end. Stoker stretched my patience. There is a story here but it is buried under endless strange edits and scenes that go nowhere/do nothing, moments where the sound effects dominate for no particular reason.

Stoker is the story of a family secret that devours all, and a coming-of-age tale about a teenage girl whose strangeness is merely an indication of a psychological problem that manifests -eventually- in a murderous appetite fed by her charismatic long-lost uncle, who arrives at the outset of the film during the funeral of her father. Told like that, the film sounds interesting, and if the film had simply told that story, then yes, it might have been a success.

Alas, the central mysteries aren’t really even presented as mysteries, they are almost inconsequential to the film, lost in the murk of the stylistic choices that swamp everything. The film opens at the funeral of the girl’s father, and instead of elaborating on the man’s mysterious death, suggesting a darker mystery for the audience to engage with and unravel, its simply passed over. Only later as the family secret is finally revealed does the significance of the fathers death appear evident, by which time I was pretty much past caring.

The cast is fine but in an effort to make them all seem rather odd and David Lynchian the film loses any empathy from the audience. I really didn’t care what happened to India (Mia Wasikowska), the oddball teenager preoccupied with focussing on the films audio track, or her mother Eve (Nicole Kidman) who is self-centered and soulless. The only interesting character is India’s long-lost uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) who is very much channeling Anthony Perkins from Psycho and clearly up to no good.

It actually reminded me a little of Twin Peaks. I don’t know if that was a conscious thing by the film-makers, but it did occur to me that all the oddness and obfuscation was very much in the vein of the first series of that tv show. Perhaps if I had been aware of this from the start I might have enjoyed the film more, but as I was expecting something of a gothic horror I was derailed somewhat. In anycase, I don’t think there is really any excuse for deliberately bad storytelling so this film was a pretty poor misfire to me.

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6 thoughts on “Stoker (2013)

  1. Well, I know you know how differently I thought of it, but I just re-read my review for a refresher and even I acknowledged there’s an element of style over substance, so at least we (almost) agree there!

    Lynch is certainly an accurate point of reference, though I hadn’t thought specifically of a Twin Peaks comparison before. That just reminds me I really need to re-watch that series.

  2. Yes, that Twin Peaks blu-ray box has been waiting on my shelf for over a year now. Can’t believe it. I was so looking forward to it before it came out, and with the new series out next year the clock is definitely ticking.

    I don’t know what it is, too much stuff to watch/distractions. Maybe next Autumn (Twin Peaks is not a summer show).

  3. Matthew McKinnon

    I couldn’t agree more. I picked this up in a 3-for £20 deal in HMV, as a result of some of the gushing reviews I’d read online. I thought it was terrible: like a story scribbled in an overwrought teenager’s jotter transferred directly to the screen. Dreadful stuff.

    1. Stoker is EXACTLY the kind of film that I would have bought in the ‘Old Days’. Its looks interesting, has a cast I usually like, and had some good reviews. Just goes to show, you can’t be too careful. Thank goodness I’ve become more cynical about casting and cautious of marketing these days.

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