When India Stoker’s father dies in a car accident, an uncle she didn’t know existed comes into her life. Who is this man and why has he shown up now? Review of Park Chan-wook’s Stoker after the jump.
On India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska) 18th birthday, her much beloved father (Richard Stoker, played by Dermot Mulroney) is killed in a car accident. India is devastated. To say that she was close to her father would be an understatement. India doesn’t care much for her cool mother (Evelyn Stoker, played by Nicole Kidman), who has never really “got” her. India views the world a little differently than most. She observes things, details, that most would overlook, and she has the ability to hear the very quietest of sounds. She is brilliant but reserved, preferring the company of her father and herself to those of friends or other family.
On the day of her father’s funeral Charlie Stoker (Matthew Goode) presents himself to Evelyn and India. He is Richard’s younger brother, and he has decided to finally returned to his family in order to support Evelyn and India through this tough time. Evelyn knew of Charlie, but to India his existence is a surprise. She is both intrigued and wary of this man who says he has spent the last two decades travelling the world. Charlie decides to stay for a while, both to support, and to get to know his family; or at least that’s why he says he is staying. India isn’t so certain. There’s something about Charlie which both fascinates and scares her. His eyes seem to pierce through her tough exterior into her soul. There’s something there, but what?
From the very first shot, you know you’re seeing something special with Stoker. This film is a visual masterpiece. Every single frame of this film looks stunning. From the composition, to the colours, and the lighting, it has all been executed immaculately. In the Q&A after the film, director Park Chan-wook (Joint Security Area, Old Boy) said that it was he wanted to tell a story through visual and audio means first; the dialogue was secondary. He has succeeded. Those familiar with his work will recognise his visual flair in Stoker; the attention to detail is incredible. Everything has a purpose. Nothing is in this film just because.
Complimenting the fantastic photography and composition is the editing. At times I was aghast at the seamless transition between scenes. From the flowing locks of Kidman’s hair, to long grass blowing in the fields, all in one beautiful motion. It really is such a fluid film; themes, style, editing, visual cues, character’s behavioral patterns – all of these things repeat throughout the film, but never at the expense of the story. It is not distracting, it is immersive and rewards those who have an eye for detail. The use of music and the original score by Clint Mansell serve to heighten the Gothic nature of the film. When characters are uneasy, the subtle score ensures that we’re feeling unsettled too.
Mia Wasikowska once again proves she is a young actress with immense talent. India is a complicated character, and much credit should be given to Wasikowska for enabling the audience to connect with her. Kidman is well suited for the icy, slightly crazy matriarch role; while Goode gives a fantastic and unsettling performance as the mysterious uncle. While Jackie Weaver is a minor character, she certainly makes an impact during her time on screen. She is the audience, and we feel her unease.
Stoker is a gothic family horror. It has all the elements of a good horror, with the look and feel of something decidedly more like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, something which screenwriter Wentworth Miller admits being inspired by. While it is a horror, it’s ultimately a film about a young woman discovering who she is. India has always been different, but it takes the appearance of her uncle for her to understand what that really means.
The film has an amazing first act – the screenplay is tight and we learn so much about the characters, without it feeling exposition-heavy. However in the later stages of the film things go a little wayward. It’s hard to say much without talking about specific plot details, but I felt that some of India’s character development was a little unearned. It didn’t feel that there was as much depth to her character in the latter stages of the otherwise almost faultless film.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Chan-wook Park
Screenplay: Wentworth Miller & Erin Cressida Wilson (contributing writer)
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
Runtime: 99 minutes
Release date(s): Australia & New Zealand: August 29 2013