I was lucky enough to catch the premiere of 'Stoker' at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Park Chan-wook was in attendance and held an insightful Q&A after the film concluded. Through a translator, he expressed his unique vision for the movie and his adoration for all of the famous faces involved with the project. As some might know about the festival circuit, hyperbole takes center stage. An eager older press member stood up and asked Chan-wook what it felt like to have "…out Hitchcock'd, Hitchcock." You could practically hear the rest of the audience scoff at such an outlandish statement. Chan-wook humbly bowed his head and replied that he didn't even measure up to the "Master," "not even an inch."
'Stoker' is a visually surreal movie that owes much of its inspiration to Alfred Hitchcock's famous familial thriller, 'Shadow of a Doubt.' In the Q&A we learned that the script, which was penned by 'Prison Break' star Wentworth Miller, was finished long before Chan-wook was attached. Since Chan-wook announced in the same Q&A that he wasn't aware of any direct Hitchcock references (of which there are many) we have to assume that he simply didn't know how close of a homage this is. Right down to Uncle Charlie (this time played by the always devious-looking Matthew Goode) whistling a harmless tune before he commits his dastardly deeds.
That's not to say that if you've seen 'Shadow of a Doubt' that you should skip 'Stoker' altogether. Yes, there are some glaring similarities that any casual Hitchcock fan will be able to point out, but there's the added element of Chan-wook's deft cinematic eye. He knows how to frame shots, how to manipulate them into something visually fantastic, and how to create a sinister mood with complex lighting and color coordinated production design. 'Stoker' is certainly one of the most visually interesting movies you'll see all year.
As for the story, well, as mentioned before, it's quite a lot like Hitchcock's 'Shadow of a Doubt.' Long lost Uncle Charlie comes to visit his brother's family after the death of his brother in a horrible car accident. The details surrounding the tragic accident are shrouded in mystery and so is Uncle Charlie. Goode's steely blue eyes are as creepy as they come, giving Uncle Charlie that sinister serial killer look.
With the loss of Richard Stoker (played by Dermot Mulroney in flashbacks), India (Mia Wasikowska) and her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) find themselves alone in a big house. India mourns the loss of her father without actually shedding a tear. She's too busy acting angst-ridden and emo. Evelyn is another sort of crazy, which Kidman is great at playing. As soon as Uncle Charlie enters the picture things are turned upside down.
Chan-wook is a master of his craft. Even though the Miller's story, motivations, and characterizations leave a lot to be desired Chan-wook is still able to pull out a moody, atmospheric film that contains so many fun visual clues that it never gets boring to look at.
The press member at the Q&A wasn't right though. This movie doesn't come close to out Hitchcocking Hitchcock. It's pretty difficult to do that in the first place. It's a valiant try, but it's a long way off from duplicating the Master of Suspense.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Stoker' is a Fox Searchlight release. It comes in as a single-disc release, sporting a 50GB Blu-ray. There is a code included for an UltraViolet Digital Copy of the movie. The back of the case indicates that this is a Region A only disc.
Chan-wook shot 'Stoker' on 35mm – yeah, some people still use that stuff – and it shows. The 1080p transfer of this film, which depends on its visual artistry to succeed, is pretty gorgeous indeed. From beginning to end, you can see the filmic detail, the cinematic vision of every shot. With so many digital movies being shot now it's interesting to experience the lushness of a new movie, shot on real film, presented in high definition every once and while.
The movie's opening credits are a not-so-subtle clue of what type of interesting visuals you're in for. The tiniest details, like blood spatter on a flower, or pollen drifting through the air, are perfectly visible. India's hair blows in the wind and each strand is distinctively visible. Colors, which are plentiful and deliberate, are presented with a rich sumptuous look. Reds, greens, yellows, and browns are all wonderfully rendered. Black levels are optimal all the way through.
Technical anomalies and other hiccups are kept at bay. I didn't notice a single area of the film that could be considered faulty. Since the movie relies on its visuals to carry it, it's great that Fox has released a demo-worthy disc.
There's an interesting audio mix going on here too. A mix that focuses on and enhances the smallest sounds like the legs of a spider crawling across the floor, the sounds of insects buzz and chirping outside, and the cracking of necks when Uncle Charlie is feeling especially murderous.
Sound effects aren't just centered up front. They're placed all around the sound stage. The movie's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix offers up an enveloping surround sound experience. Whenever India finds herself walking around outside, the sounds of the insects gradually grow louder and louder. The rear channels are alive with activity, drawing you into each scene.
Dialogue is always clear, even when whispered. Directionality is very important, especially during scenes where India overhears people talking in the other room, but even then the voices that are coming from out of frame are still clearly understood. LFE is plentiful both during loud moments in the soundtrack and intense moments where India finds herself in danger. There's a lot to love about this varied and unique audio mix.
'Stoker' is visually stunning. Wentworth Miller's script owes a lot to 'Shadow of a Doubt' though. People that have seen 'Hitchcock's early masterpiece might be frustrated at the stuff that's been blatantly lifted from it. If you can get over that and enjoy the visual aesthetic, then 'Stoker' might be just the treat. It has some killer audio and video. The special features are fairly well-rounded considering its low-budget roots. 'Stoker' is recommended viewing.