Director: Chan-wook Park
Writers: Wentworth Miller, Erin Cressida Wilson (contributing writer)
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
Motion Picture Rating: R
Runtime: 99 minutes
Park Chan-Wook is a hugely talented writer and director. I am a true fan of his and have been spellbound by his films (Joint Security Area, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Oldboy for instance). He is from South Korea and Stoker is his first English language film. Whilst wary of the title – is this the biography of the author of Dracula by any chance? – I came to this with high expectations. Park always delivers clever camera work, unique transitions, balletic action and a hefty dose of brutality. His films are framed to perfection and this one is no different.
Stoker opens with the funeral of Richard Stoker, victim of a car accident. His widow Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) are graveside and away in the distance is enigmatic Uncle Charlie, Richard’s long-forgotten brother. Charlie thereafter inveigles his way into the lives of widow and daughter, but by giving little away. He is a genuine man of mystery. His past is pure speculation and less of interest to Evelyn who is immediately taken with his killer smile and easy manner. She is smitten, but India is unsure and tries to resist the overly sexualized attempts at relationship building by uncle creepy.
The cinematography in the first 20 minutes of Stoker is a thing of wonder. It is beguiling, familiar yet off-kilter and at times unsettling. That is the vibe for the whole film; a strange, creepy and odd feeling pervades the Stoker house. Mia Wasikowska is the central character and her unblinking and unfeeling India is also a thing of wonder. She is a talented actress and rarely tries too hard. India is a perfect role for her remote other-worldliness and is reminiscent at times of Sissy Spacek’s Carrie.
Kidman and Matthew Goode (as Uncle Charlie) do well alongside Wasikowska and the acting is up towards the very high standard of cinematography, early pacing and the original score (by Clint Mansell). This is a film with a lot of art and class. It is better than so many ‘psychological thrillers’ and would make Hitchcock proud. There are faults with it – it wraps up a little too quickly and the lack of knowledge of Uncle Charlie’s violent past is rather implausible – but overall it succeeds. It is an effective and menacing piece of family drama.