Written by Douglas Whyte.
Korean director Park Chan-wook is renowned for his masterful, ostentatious displays of violence. The intensely cult-ish Oldboy (2003) is perhaps his best known venture into such territory. In Stoker, his English-language debut, violence is treated with fierce restraint. However, this doesn’t mean it is any less impacting. Stoker is an unusual coming-of-age tale that expertly mixes gothic melodrama and psychological thriller, garnished of course with elegant ruptures of juicy bloodshed.
The film details the world of India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska). Pallid, thin, and severely adolescent. She is dealing with the recent death of her father, who died in a car crash on her 18th birthday. India is seen languishing in and around her family’s gorgeous estate, keeping to herself and palming off the movements of her emotionally distant mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Amidst this grief-stricken atmosphere enters Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), the long-absent, utterly alluring brother of India’s father.
Uncle Charlie’s insertion into the family dynamic is disturbingly smooth. From the onset we start to realise something terribly secretive lies beneath his cool exterior. His sexual approaches towards Evelyn are calculated and in knowing sight of India’s watchful eye. He follows India around like a protective shadow, communicating more through gestures than with words. Charlie’s fascination with her both offends and excites India, and her reactions to him become increasingly erratic. She starts testing his limits, which consequently makes us question whether Charlie’s existence in her life is exploitative or in some way a justification for India’s own darkness. In the interplay between the two, we see simultaneous moments of intimacy and brutality, forcing us to determine whether the idea of evil is something conditioned or inherent.
Park directs the film with a queasy sort of tenderness. Colour is saturated, movement is lethargic, sound is sharp and unpredictable, and time seems out of joint. The film is writhing with suspense, sexual and violent. A deliberate, emotional landscape that reflects the inner workings of India herself.
At times, Wentworth Miller’s script becomes slightly unoriginal, especially in its exploration of Charlie’s mysterious past. Yet in the hands of Park Chan-wook, Stoker proves to be an inventive and compact film.
Some audiences may not feel comfortable in letting themselves into India’s world. It is claustrophobic and undeniably dark. For those not accustomed to cool acts of violence and a minimalist script, Stoker may induce a few aggravated responses. However, giving this film a chance is the right thing to do. Matthew Goode’s performance as Uncle Charlie is slick and pure and Nicole Kidman teeters perfectly on the edge of emotional derangement. A tightly acted, confident film.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10.