India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is a moody teenager from a privileged family living in the lush countryside of the United States. Her pleasant and uneventful life is suddenly turned upside down when her father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) is killed in a car accident. India is left with her apathetic mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and no one to console her, until her long-lost, creepy uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) shows up. While the not-really-grieving widow seems to appreciate her odd, but attractive brother-in-law’s presence, he seems to be hiding terrible family secrets under his strange smirk.
A South Korean director like Park Chan-wook (Oldboy and Thirst) working in Hollywood – in a different culture with an English-speaking cast and writer (and producers) – doesn’t seem like an ideal fit at first. This is somewhat confirmed here. It’s always difficult to translate Asian sensibilities and cultural traits into an American film. Actor turned writer Wentworth Miller pens a story that resembles Korean fare, but he may still be a diamond in the rough as far as his screenwriting abilities go, especially in the character development department. The lack of compelling writing is partly overcome by a great cast, Wing Lee’s inspired art direction and Chung Chung-hoon’s splendid cinematography. The use of Stride la vampa from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore (1853), is another delight of Stoker.
The way Park is able to capture and compliment Mia Wasikowska’s astonishingly beautiful face, by frame only certain details, like her mouth, needs to be commended. Pulling off the whole weirdo-creep teenager thing, without making the character completely unlikable, is never easy: Stoker mostly succeeds thanks to Mia’s committed performance. It remains a mystery how much of the awkward atmosphere is intentional. The film tries to sustain the weird tone for too long, stretching out the story unnecessarily before making its point. Again, what Park was going for might work in a South Korean film, but like Nicole Kidman’s character it feels out of place here. The “big reveal”, the climax of the film is rather unsatisfying and cliché.
The film also seems to be heavily influenced by The Uninvited (2009), the American remake of A Tale of two Sisters (2003), both aesthetically and narratively. Surely the producing Scott brothers might have something to do with it, in their effort to make the film marketable.
Overall I’d recommend Stoker particularly if you enjoy brightly lit psychological thrillers and horror films; of course Park Chan-wook fans should check this one out; also if you like Carrie (1976), Ginger Snaps (2000) and May (2002) this one might just be up your alley.
Rating of First Viewing
(on my laptop)
7 out of 10