Blu-ray Review: Stoker

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The creepy thriller Stoker, now on Blu-ray, was the final film produced by the late Tony Scott. It’s also the first English-language production directed by acclaimed South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook. Aside from those two distinctions, the more likely hook for curious potential viewers is the cast, which includes Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, and Dermot Mulroney. It’s kind of a spin on Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, which also featured a very shady character named Uncle Charlie. Here Charlie is played to chilly perfection by Matthew Goode, slowly revealing secrets to his niece, India (Wasikowska).

Unlike the Hitchcock film, India emerges as her uncle’s equal (at least) in terms of sheer bizarreness. After her father, Richard (Mulroney), dies on her 18th birthday, India meets Charlie for the first time at the funeral. She confronts her mom, Evelyn (Kidman), and asks her why she was never told about her uncle. Evelyn says she barely knew he existed herself. Charlie sets up residence in Evelyn and India’s house, making himself a little too comfortable. He seems to have designs on both his brother’s widow and his own niece.

Stoker nicole matthew (380x253).jpgIndia is quite inscrutable, a loner who is constantly teased by boys at her high school for being so withdrawn. Charlie begins showing up to give her a ride home, but she opts for the bus. When Auntie Gin (Jacki Weaver) stops by for dinner, she seems to have something important to say about Charlie. Evelyn can’t wait to escort her out of the house, but India invites her to stay the night. Gin politely declines, slipping her phone number to India on a piece of a paper. It’s difficult to say what motivated sullen India’s sudden burst of hospitality. It’s also hard to say whether she’s attracted to or repulsed by her uncle, especially after discovering an unpleasant surprise in the basement freezer.

Stoker is high on spooky atmosphere but distressingly low on insight into these characters’ minds. The film’s central twist isn’t hard to see coming (I say that as someone who’s notoriously slow on the uptake regarding such things). The performances are interesting at first, though unfortunately one-note in the end. The screenplay (by first-timer Wentworth Miller) keeps things infuriatingly vague. Leaving a bit to the viewer’s interpretation is one thing, but Stoker ends up not having much to say. What might’ve made a killer 45-minute TV episode ends up stretched to the breaking point at 99 minutes.

Stoker nicole mia (380x253).jpgRock solid technical presentation leaves nothing to complain about with Fox’s Stoker Blu-ray. Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography (shot on 35mm film) looks terrific; sharp, detailed, and free of perceivable flaws. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is subtle, offering supportive, often freaky effects from the rear channels. When India descends to her home’s basement level, the rears come alive with activity as we hear creaks, footsteps, and other noises. Dialogue sounds great, with Matthew Goode’s voice sounding particularly rich and resonant.

As for supplements, fans can revel in ten minutes of deleted scenes, a relatively interesting (though typically self-congratulatory) 27-minute “making of,” slide shows, and several short EPK featurettes. There’s also some footage from the film’s theatrical premiere.

Though I felt it eventually wore out its welcome, Stoker is intriguing enough to give it a very cautious recommendation. But honestly I can’t imagine ever wanting to see it again, as the setup is far more interesting than the payoff (or lack thereof).

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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