Photo: ©2013 Fox Searchlight

Director(s): Park Chan-wook

Writer(s): Wentworth Miller

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver, Nicole Kidman, Phyllis Somerville, Alden Ehrenreich, Lucas Till, Ralph Brown and Judith Godreche

Reviewed by: Christine Lambert on

Release Date(s)

Mar 1, 2013 - Wide

There are moments in time where one wishes they could take a snapshot and stare at it endlessly. Images so beautiful and moments unforgettable, they dance in our heads on a continuous loop. Watching Stoker gives the audience member beautiful visual after beautiful visual while juxtaposing them with a macabre story of a family in the throes of several life-altering events.

It is India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska) eighteenth birthday and she has just lost her father (Dermot Mulroney) in a fatal car accident. After the funeral, with the home filling with guests for the reception, her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) whom she never knew existed, arrives. Her mother (Nicole Kidman) is immediately taken with Charlie, almost forgetting that she just buried her husband. The lack of affection from India makes Charlie’s arrival all the more welcome.

Stoker is a coming of age film that focuses on India’s development. In the short time since her Uncle Charlie’s arrival, India is shown to blossom in an unconventional way to realize her true destiny with his help. While Uncle Charlie’s seduction of both mother and daughter may sound disturbing on the page, the delicate mastery of his ways is far more terrifying than that delivered by any run-of-the-mill horror flick with tiresome bump in the night moments. The psychological thriller that Stoker is, is far more cerebral than one would imagine or expect from a horror film.

Goode’s performance of Charlie balances carefully, like a tight rope walker, between charming and creepy. His unyielding preoccupation with India is uncomfortable as he navigates through the household to gain her affection. Goode’s performance is akin to a magician’s slight of hand; while you are convinced you are seeing one thing, he masterly captivates India despite her objections at their first meeting. The delicate balance of Goode’s performance only speaks to the talent that he possesses.

Kidman’s portrayal of Evelyn is always two drops of wine away from being blowsy. She shows a woman broken long before the death of her husband whose desperation rivals that of even Dolores Haze’s mother in Lolita. Though she acts revived after the arrival of Charlie, Kidman’s performance adeptly shows what different routes grief can take after the death of a loved one.

Wasikowska’s performance seems obvious at first; a young girl is distant and quiet after the death of her father and is wary of her newly arrived Uncle. She watches the actions of the adults around her while voicing her opinions in minimalist ways. The beauty of Wasikowska’s performance is the depth that it travels in the story. There is more to India than is on the surface and Wasikowska delivers subtle clues to her psyche that is mesmerizing to watch.

The true star of the film (and there are many) is director Park Chan-wook. By using the talents of cinematographer Chung hoon-Chung, Park has created one of the most visually stunning, disturbingly great psychological thrillers of our time. Unfortunately, all too often these days, a person will pick up a video camera and deem themselves a “director” just by proximity to the instrument. While many “directors” will proclaim they are the next Tarantino or Scorsese, Park has a style that stands alone with its uniqueness. A wonderful illustration of that is the piano duel between India and Uncle Charlie. Under someone else’s hands, this scene would be two people playing the piano together. Under Park, it is a sexual awakening for a young girl with her Uncle. Absent are the sweaty sheets and arched backs, but the impact watching the scene has is intense.

Stoker is one of the most effective psychological thrillers ever made. Future film classes will do a disservice to their students if Stoker is not included in master classes as a staple of ingenious cinema.