Published on July 5th, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Summary: This stuffy thriller drips with Hitchcock's influence. Matthew Goode steals the show as this flick will creep you out long after its credits have rolled.
R | 99 min.
Director: Park Chan-wook | Screenplay: Wentworth Miller
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman
Studio: Scott Free Productions, Indian Paintbrush | Distribution: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Throughout movie history, there have been plenty of families I would like to be part of. The Incredibles, Klumps, Simpsons, even the Von Trapps made fleeing from the Nazis seem kind of fun!
I count my blessings I’m not a member of the Stoker clan.
This film from noted Korean director Park Chan-wook owes much to Alfred Hitchcock (as most thrillers do), starting with its ’60s-inspired costumes. Stoker is equal parts family drama, psychological thriller, and coming-of-age sexual exploration. In short, there’s a lot going on within its frames.
Chan-wook’s movies often feature graphic violence sprinkled among beautiful, striking imagery–the same can be said for Stoker. In his 2003 masterpiece Oldboy, the audience sees a man’s teeth pulled out via hammer and another’s tongue cut out with scissors in an otherwise gorgeous picture. Similar to that flick, incest plays prominently into Stoker‘s plot–leading me to think Chan-wook is a pretty weird dude.
The storyline centers on 18-year-old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), whose beloved father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) has recently been killed under suspicious circumstances. India doesn’t fit in at school, mostly because of her vintage fashion sense and penchant for stabbing bullies with pencils. Her dad’s death has left her alone with her withdrawn, stuffy mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and her visiting uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). As Charlie & Evelyn play out an uncomfortably close relationship, India finds herself putting together clues to her father’s demise and becoming in-tune with her own dark urges.
Stoker creeped me the hell out at nearly every turn. Among a cast of strong performers including Oscar-nominee Jacki Weaver, it’s Goode who completely owns every scene he’s in. You can tell something is off about uncle Charlie from his first appearance at his brother’s funeral but as you revel in his tales of world travel while he dons a pair of Ray-Ban Clubmasters and perfectly-pressed chinos–you wonder what the secret is. It’s Wasikowska that carries this film though, as she’s in nearly every scene and must command the complicated roller coaster that are a teenage girl’s desires.
Atmospherically, this film is dry and uptight, with hardly an emotion on display in the entire 99 minutes. If you’re expecting to see tears flowing and red-eyed screaming outbursts, dash those hopes–in Stoker the actors have a tight grip on the reigns, making for a very stuffy film. One of the things that frustrated me about this movie was the ambiguous time-period it was set in. For the first half-hour of Stoker, I was convinced we were in 1965 as India wears Saddle Oxfords and the other characters dress similarly old-fashioned–after this, it’s evident that the film takes place in present day, but the costume choices begin to become distracting especially when compared to kids at her high school.
At times, Stoker was thematically reminiscent of Hitchcock’s thrillers as Charlie behaves like an over-bearing parental figure to India, while trying to get closer to her. However, the film has more in common with Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita from a stylistic standpoint. This is a movie that drips sexuality–mostly of a wildly inappropriate nature. The tension is present between Charlie and Evelyn from the first time we see them together but the slow-building heat boils over between Charlie and India as the pair tickle the ivories (which may sound like a sexual euphemism but is meant completely literally). You’ll never think of familial piano duets without having heart palpitations after seeing this one…
If you dig sexual thrillers, you’ll be into Stoker but if those kind of films just leave you creeped out, you may want to skip it. I’ll definitely be paying more attention to the young Wasikowska as her career continues, but it’s Matthew Goode who came off as a bonafide star after the credits rolled. Scenes from this film will stick with you and continue to creep you out long after it’s over.