‘Stoker’ is a haunting, finely crafted piece of visual workmanship that is stylized to the hilt, although it has to rest on a whisper-thin horror storyline. As such, the film has to rely on nuanced interactions, symbolism, and psychosexual undercurrents to breathe intrigue into its weak frame.
The film opens soon after the sudden and recent car accident death of family patriarch, Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney). Richard, whose life is seen only in flashbacks, leaves behind his wealthy, but depressed and emotionally distant stay-at-home wife, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and his atypical, intellectual 18-year-old daughter, India (Mia Wasikowska). India is distant, at best, in interacting with her mother, and is also seemingly isolative and emotionally muted, somewhat stunted in her ability to move beyond being a child into an independent young woman. Soon after Richard’s burial, Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode, as Richard’s little-known brother that neither Stoker female had ever directly met before) arrives in the Stoker household, changing its balance, and begins to ‘play house’ with Evelyn. India, too, appears partially drawn to the out-of-nowhere uncle, who seems strangely (and disturbingly) eager to have the young girl’s approval and interest. Charlie seems to arouse some suspicion in India, and she soon finds that, although she is becoming increasingly entranced, Charlie may be up to some nefarious doings.
Director Chan-wook Park (‘Oldboy’) takes pains of great minutiae to create the film’s stylized and odd atmosphere. Although an occasional cell phone or hunting gun is shown, the film seems somehow outside the boundaries of modern time (the title, perhaps, being a nod to Bram ‘Stoker’s’ ageless Dracula?). Character wardrobe is only in solid colors without a clear time period, and its conservative style, easily harkens back to the 1950s or 1960s. Further, current technology (computers, flat-screen televisions, etc.) and the hustle and bustle of modern life is quite rarely seen in the film, often giving the movie its quiet tone and almost foreign, ethereal quality. Even the characters themselves constantly speak of the expected repetition of their day-to-day lives (India has been wearing the same style of shoes for her entire life, and Evelyn seems to do nothing more each day than lounge around the house Tennessee Williams-femme-style). As such, when vile acts do occur, though, they are jolting to the audience, and that shock (a la Alfred Hitchcock’s films) may imbue them with even greater horror and unsettlement than might have experienced in a more typically paced film.
In all, it is the quirky nature of the film itself, and not its predictable story (by ‘Prison Break’s’ Wentworth Miller) that is the most engaging to its audience. Wasikowska plays the intriguing India quite fascinatingly, combining features of schizophrenia and antisocial personality disorder into one idiosyncratic character of her own. Goode, too, is just plain creepily engrossing as the uncle who is not all as he seems. Further, the movie’s repeated symbolism (ticking metronomes, cracking eggs) of India’s need to grow up and change pushes the odd film forward, challenging the audience to keep up with the constant interpretation of its meaning.
‘Stoker’ is most assuredly an art-house film, for although it can be partially classified into the horror realm, it is far from displaying the blatant maniacal acts that often drive up the box office. The movie is, instead, a dreamlike dive into detailed deviancies, where every scene (and every costume and prop) allows for interpretation of meaning. The fun of ‘Stoker’ is what you can bring to the table after stirring together its ingredients. ‘Stoker’ is rated 3 of 5 (‘mildly recommended’) stars.
'Stoker' is rated 'R' for 'disturbing violent and sexual content.'
Like to be up-to-date on the latest new releases as we head into the jam-packed spring and summer movie seasons? Subscribe to Christine’s articles to receive them as soon as they are released or press ‘like’ at the top of the page. See you at the movies!