Synopsis: 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.
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver, Nicole Kidman
Director: Park Chan-wook
Running Length: 98 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: It’s rather interesting that the American film debut of Korean director Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy) would be a film that’s so European in its composition. On the other hand, Chan-Wook is known for his rich visuals that tie into a narrative structure so it could just have been his destiny to be matched up with the script for Stoker, a corker of a thriller that makes no apologies for favoring style over substance.
That’s not to say that Prison Break star Wentworth Miller’s script doesn’t have a lot going for it; the tale of a fractured family with several skeletons in its closet provides some nice opportunities for its cast to go the distance while gleefully coloring outside the lines of character development. Still, stepping back from my initial reaction to the film I must admit that the overall plot developments do feel very mannered and ordinary. There’s nothing in the story department that hasn’t been done before in any number of potboiler films concerning unknown relatives with hidden agendas.
What I keep going back to with fondness is the way the film has a devil-may-care attitude as it plays tricks with our perception of what’s really going on. That’s mostly thanks to Chan-Wook’s constantly moving camera and his clever employment of old-hat film techniques like freeze frames and close-ups. From frame one its clear the movie is ready for action and maintains that level of awareness throughout.
A movie so heavy on technique would only be moderately interesting without an equally dynamic cast to use it on. Wasikowska plays dour like the best of ‘em and here she’s a sour puss child mourning her deceased father and avoiding her chilly mother (Kidman) at all costs. Though the preview implies Kidman’s character is a bit shadier, it’s not a spoiler to reveal that this lady is more nuanced than that. Goode is a UK actor that doesn’t rely on his All American looks to sell his All American Uncle who shows up and moves in before his brother’s body is cold. Oscar nominee Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) pops in for a curious cameo as a Stoker aunt, Alden Ehrenreich (Beautiful Creatures) is a school acquaintance of Wasikowska, and Phyllis Somerville gets some solid (if brief) mileage as a sage housekeeper.
Soon, Wasikowska and Goode are finding a familial bond exists between them like Wasikowska had with her father…something that begins to drive a wedge further between mother and daughter. Kidman is rarely without a glass of wine in her hand or glaze over her eyes and I was reminded of the mother in Lolita…so clueless as to what was happening around her. It’s too late to go back once some truths are finally revealed and more than a few bodies start to pile up around the estate house where the movie runs its course.
The way I see it, Stoker could have gone one of two ways: it could have been an overheated gothic melodrama or a simmering fever dream of excess. Thankfully it’s the latter and fans of stylishly made thrillers should get a kick out of Stoker’s richly weird performances that balance nicely with its cruel violence. I can see where the film may be too stylized for some, but give this one strong consideration if you respond well to confidently made films.