After 18 year old India's (Mia Wasikowska) father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) dies in some sort of car accident, her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives but is fascinated by him.
Review by Louise Keller:
The monotony of the metronome's beat from the top of the grand piano cuts through the silence of the family home, where there is little semblance of family: just brittle, unspoken hostility. The sense of place, internal rhythms and fragile relationships are all developed with mastery by acclaimed director Chan-wook Park (Thirst, Old Boy) in this chilling film where obsession and secrets create an invisible curtain of terror. Slowly but surely, the discomfort and foibles of the characters are allowed to develop through first time screenwriter Wentworth Miller's carefully structured screenplay, taking us on a circular journey that begins and ends with blood-red dappled flowers in a lonely field.
Park offers a synergy of images as he plays with our minds. Strands of hair become long wind-blown grasses; the waves on a beach become the coil of a sea-shell and a cobweb-encrusted swinging light captures a room's different perspectives as Mia Wasikowska's 18 year old protagonist India Stoker hears what others do not hear and sees life from her own unique slant.
There is tangible antagonism between India and her self-obsessed mother Evelyn, effectively played by Nicole Kidman, whose glamour-puss, flirtatious persona is the antithesis of her detached, ugly duckling daughter. The afore-mentioned grand piano features in a pivotal scene in which India's newly arrived Uncle Charles (Matthew Goode) joins her on the keyboard for a duet that develops into an erotic crescendo as arms and hands entwine while the discordant notes bond.
Everything revolves around the relationships between the three characters: Charles is the catalyst that changes everything, arriving shortly after the tragic death and funeral of India's beloved father Richard (Dermot Mulroney). The stuffed birds around the house are a reminder of the hunting excursions India and her father shared. Much of the narrative concentrates on the establishment of India, her inner life and self-perception. The open flirtation between Evelyn and the handsome Charles does not go unnoticed by India and further resentment is seeded. The connection between India and Charles is complex: fraught with suspicion, confusion and coupled with attraction. Sexual tension is an underlying factor throughout the film, nurturing a claustrophobic sense of not being able to breathe.
If tension was a mist, the entire film is played under a shroud. Wasikowska brings great stillness to her role, her pale demeanour, dark hair and saucer blue eyes offering new information every time we see her. After all, this 18th birthday symbolizes India's coming of age. Kidman constructs a great character of Evelyn; she is as cold as the freezer in the basement and we enjoy disliking her. In an enigmatic and scene-stealing performance, Goode is both charming and sinister. Watch out for Jackie Weaver, who makes an impact as India's aunt; the urgency with which she tells India to 'Ring me' does not go unnoticed.
Superb direction brings together all the elements - story, tone, performance, dynamic and nuance. Extreme close-ups, visceral music, disturbing imagery. I wished I had taken a pair of gloves - my hands became icy cold.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Director Chan-wook Park will have turned 50 (Aug. 23) just days before his latest film, Stoker, opens in Australia (Aug. 29). [Happy birthday Chan-wook!] And he takes the cake - not the birthday cake that features in the film, that belongs to our young heroine, India Stoker - but the metaphoric one. I mention his age only to note that he's not an enthusiastic newcomer.
This is the filmmaker who wowed the world (not me, I'm afraid) with his violent 2003 film, Oldboy (remade by Spike Lee and due in Australian cinema in October 2013) and a couple of other revenge themed films and Thirst (2009) an offbeat vampire movie. He does dark material ...
But Stoker is avant garde even for him, a stylised and stilted drama that defies easy categorisation, floating from family murder mystery to the edges of supernatural/horror - with some vampiric and some sexual elements. It's not the story itself that is of interest for cinema lovers, it's how he presents it, using every device and tool to create a sense of unease, uncertainty and anticipation. Some of it is visually fabulous, inventively edited and choreographed with the music and effects track. Some of it is sheer manipulation, like juxtaposing images to suggest connections or flashing back in time in a baffling sleight of hand.
There is a theatrical mood to the way Park moves his characters, contrasting with the highly cinematic use of close ups that pile on the visceral and ignore the rational. These close ups range from a spindly legged spider crawling up India's leg to rainwater dripping between her feet.
As for the Stoker family name, it hints at things the film doesn't develop, and leaves a sense of unfinished business. Maybe I'm looking for answers where Park provides ambiguity, but he's the one leading me on.
It's cinematic architecture, if you like, and the performances are controlled, deliberate, just north of natural. On that basis, the film is not promising as a block buster, but it is sure to generate debate and disagreement. I think it offers much to admire in a cool cinematic sense, but I don't find it a satisfying film - more a curiosity.
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CAST: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, David Alford, Harmony Korine, Lucas Till, Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney, Tyler von Tagen, Thomas Covert, Jaxson Johnson
PRODUCER: Michael Costigan, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott
DIRECTOR: Chan-wook Park
SCRIPT: Wentworth Miller
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Chung-hoon Chung
EDITOR: Nicolas De Toth
MUSIC: Clint Mansell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Thérèse DePrez
RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 29, 2013