Review: Stoker – High art meets horror
The quirky new horror movie Stoker is probably the closest thing to a perfect blend of story, acting, cinematography and film direction that I have seen in a very long time. These four collaborative aspects of filmmaking are almost characters unto themselves in this movie and are perfectly meshed with each other in terms of tone and technique to make this film a truly unique and sometimes unsettling experience.
Directed by South Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park (Oldboy), Stoker tells the story of 18-year-old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) and begins just as her father (Dermot Mulroney) has died in an auto accident. The strange young woman was extremely close to her Dad who taught her how to hunt and to be ultra-observant of her surroundings. The two would often leave India’s detached and cold mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), home alone while away on their hunting trips.
The Stokers are well-to-do and live in a large mansion located in a secluded wooded area. At the funeral of India’s father her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) shows up and the girl is surprised to learn that her father had a brother. Charlie is good-looking and suave, but every bit as odd and eccentric as India, and the two kindred spirits develop a bizarre relationship.
India’s Mom, Evelyn, also becomes infatuated with her newly found brother-in-law who may or may not be all he seems. Both mother and daughter are attracted to the man, but to say too much would ruin much of this film — suffice it to say this is one crazy mixed-up family.
Director Chan-wook Park evokes Hitchcock, Kubrick and David Lynch in this masterful mix of horror, suspense and dark humor. If not for the stellar cast and brilliant direction by Park the screenplay of Stoker, by first-time writer but long-time actor Wentworth Miller (Resident Evil: Afterlife), might have just resulted in another run-of-the-mill Psycho styled rip-off instead of the original gem that it is.
Stoker’s cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung is just as unusual as its main character, India, as it visually matches both her subtle beauty and twisted psyche. The young woman claims to see things nobody else sees and hear things nobody else hears, and the camera mysteriously seems to possess these same uncanny abilities.
Mia Wasikowska’s performance of India is wonderful and brings the quality of this film to a level high above the typical movie of this genre. Her character carries a stern scowl on her face for most of the film, seldom ever displaying the quick forced shard of a smile — and only then for the benefit of others. She is a complex, compelling and sensually smoldering character that reminded me of an older Wednesday Addams, if Wednesday lived in a non-comedic world.
The always-reliable Nicole Kidman is great as India’s Mom and she is establishing quite a resume playing off-kilter, middle-aged floozies. Matthew Goode, whom you might remember as “Ozymandias” from the Watchmen movie, is fantastic as Uncle Charlie, matching Wasikowska’s peculiarities at almost every turn.
A great story can suffer from the way it is conveyed and a bland story can benefit from being masterfully told; this story certainly stoked the creative juices of Chan-wook Park and his team and the result is marvelous. There are not many horror/suspense films that you can consider a great work of art, but Stoker is destined to become a classic that I could watch again and again. GRADE: 8/10
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