Stoker (2013) Directed by Chan-wook Park. Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode. IMDB says: ”After India’s father dies, her Uncle Charlie, who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother. She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.”
Stoker is a special sort of movie–one that holds true to the trailer that made you initially so excited to watch it, while managing to subvert those expectations into something surprising and fresh. The basics of the trailer are all here. India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska) father is killed suddenly. Her aloof mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), is bereaved but not so much that she isn’t immediately taken with her deceased husband’s long absent brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode) who integrates himself into the household. However, not only does the extended family think it’s a bit icky what’s going on with Evelyn and her brother-in-law, but India is very curious to figure out what’s beneath the mysterious aura surrounding her Uncle Charlie. Where the film goes with that set up is a bit different than I thought it would go, even as it unraveled before me. Nothing was made certain until the very end of the film and it was twisted and a bit sinister the whole way. Stoker is a damn good movie.
The success of this film hinges on the main character, India, who’s a very interesting character. She’s dour and sarcastic with a reserved nature and a traditional, modest style. You quickly learn that she has keen senses; she’ll hear your hushed whisper from the next room and she can spot the tiniest details at a few yards distance. You’re never quite sure where her head’s at as she observes and analyzes just who this Uncle Charlie is and what his being in her house means. It helps that Mia is so talented and convincing because this story forces you to deal with some unpleasant things that acted by a lesser actress could’ve seemed gratuitous.
Mia Wasikowska is becoming one of my new favorite actresses. She commands the screen with a steely presence that forces your attention. She’s incredibly subtle but that makes it that much more powerful when she takes control over a situation in the story (true in Jane Eyre and The Kids Are All Right as well, for example). In Stoker, I thought she was at her best. India also works so well partly because she has the fantastic performance of Matthew Goode to be her counterpoint in this thriller. He’s just as mysterious to us as he is to India at first, and Goode is so great that every time you know more there’s still other layers to peel away. He’s not transparent in the least, and that makes for a compelling lead. Rounding out the main cast is Nicole Kidman in a well suited role for her. Her character is unstable and unlikeable, and Nicole kills it.
The trio of actors carry a story that is as disturbing as it is thrilling. Credit for that goes to Wentworth Miller (previously best known for starring in Prison Break) who has to have shattered everyone’s impression of the man with this brutal and sophisticated script. He was inspired by Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt which you can easily see reflected in this film despite Stoker being an entirely different beast. You can see the bit of Hitchcock intrigue here paired with well-executed gothic elements. Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) certainly delivers on his first English-language directorial effort. He establishes the enigmatic tone and keeps a fluid movement through the proceeding with his filmmaking style. This is paired with a editing style that I found quite effective, using quick cuts between scenes to create tension and visual interest.
Many pieces obviously came together to make this film a success. I’m hesitant to delve far into the themes and overall elements because it’s a film that you need to experience as it develops in its intended style and atmosphere. You’ll thank me for my vagueness. The film itself is just completely perverse and chilling and I loved it.