This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Mary Conti’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Director Park Chan-Wook makes his English language debut with Stoker, a modern Gothic thriller that seeks to get under your skin and unravel a strange mystery in which everything is beyond what it seems. And it's not any good.
Everything wrong with Stoker comes down to the script. It is a boring, lazy, stupid, and flaccid script made by an edgy 15 year old who just watched their first moody film and wants to replicate it without understanding a single thing about it. Everything wrong with this film comes down to the shoddy storytelling in Wentworth Miller's script.
While there are many rules to storytelling, there are only two that are universal and conducive to what good storytelling is. These things are conflict and character. These two things rely on each other. Conflict relies on the character, as it is the protagonist who comes into view of the conflict, and the character relies on the conflict, because if the characters do not face conflict, then they are flat characters.
This isn't even something that lends itself to traditional storytelling, it's absolutely universal to all storytelling. Consider Fellini's 8 1/2 , in which Guido struggles to make his film that he's not ever really sure what it is. Even in Fellini's non traditional narrative film, we have a character that wants something, and conflict that is stopping him from achieving what he wants. 2001: A Space Odyssey has this too across multiple characters. Dave Bowman just wants to get the mission done, and Hal (after finding his own evolution) wants to live. These characters then come into conflict with each other.
So as we can see, unless we are dealing with a non narrative film (something that's more expressive than telling a story), every story requires conflict and well drawn characters.
So what is a well drawn character? It's a character with their own wants and needs that reacts to the world in their own specific way. Oddly enough, it is the motivations of characters that leads so many writers to have one dimensional characters. See, motivations are entirely key to what drives a character, and a character without motivations is a one dimensional character without conflict, and without conflict there is no story. Motivations drive characters to make decisions, and these decisions usually lead to more conflict causing the character to change either internally or externally. Without motivations, anything that happens along the way is contrived, meaning events are clearly the result of a screenwriter wanting something to happen rather than it happening naturally.
India Stoker has no motivations. None. She is actually rather content in her place. The closest thing to a motivation that she has is wanting to be left alone, of which there is absolutely no conflict there so she has what she wants. Her uncle Charlie comes into her life, and although the film keeps trying to tell you that there's a mystery to be had, India shows little interest in figuring out who Charlie is other than when Miller's script requires her to only to keep our fading interest involved. It isn't until nearly AN HOUR AND TWENTY minutes into this film that India's motivations become clear for even a second, upon which Miller adds a twist for twists sake just to make it "cool".
So exactly what does this film have to offer in terms of story? Barely anything. Uncle Charlie shows some promise of intrigue, but India's near lack of interest into Charlie's motivations translates, and when we do find out Charlie's motivations, they are laughably ordinary that makes all sense of mystery the film had building for it seem even more silly in hindsight (and opens up a couple of plot holes). The only good character in this film is Nicole Kidman who actually has her own wants, but Miller throws her to the side even though she is clearly the only thing remotely interesting about this movie on a narrative level.
What we're left with is a film with a stagnant narrative that has absolutely no momentum. Park's style and the performances here are the only thing that makes this film even watchable , and it's depressing that it was wasted on a script this bad. Imagine what this could have been if there was actually a good script. We'd have something close to a modern horror classic, but instead we have a film that falls right out of the gate.
I know people are going to bug me about this: "But Matt! It's an experience, not a traditional story!" To hell with that, I say. If you enjoyed the film, good for you, but the narrative in what is a narrative film sucks, and I can't get past that.