India Stoker: “Sometimes you need to do something bad to stop you from doing something worse.”
Stoker is a British/American psychological Horror that had a place on many critic’s “Best of 2013” lists. It’s the first English language film from Director Park Chan-wook, most famous for his Vengeance Trilogy, which includes genre heavyweight Oldboy (the original, released in 2003). Wentworth Miller, (most famous as an actor in the television show Prison Break as well as 2 film in the Resident Evil Franchise) wrote the screenplay for Stoker, as well as a prequel titled Uncle Charlie, submitted under the pseudonym Ted Foulke.
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: After India’s father dies, her Uncle Charlie, who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother. She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.
While nothing happens in Stoker that contradicts the laws of physics, one of the film’s greatest achievements is the quasi-supernatural tone it maintains throughout. Indeed, Miller has us chasing the phantoms like a reality television ghost hunter. The title itself screams “Vampires”, seemingly alluding to Bram Stoker, the gothic writer who created Count Dracula. But let us recall that Bram Stoker is a writer, a creator or supernatural fiction, not monster himself; even if the family at center is related to the infamous Stoker, there is no reason for us to jump to the conclusion that they’re vampiric—but we do. Miller himself is a “stoker” of sorts—stoking the flames of fear and paranoia.
Stoker certainly speaks the language of the supernatural; Park Chan-wook’s use of shadows and mirrors, for example, proves that he’s a knowledgeable Horror practitioner with a keen understand of how to push certain buttons. When we learn that India (Mia Wasikowska) has heightened sensory abilities, we jump at the chance to attribute these seeming super-powers to the otherworldly. Perhaps it’s more comforting to imagine young India as a supernatural fiend than simply a typical young woman with uncanny hunting skills. Of course, the fact that she’s a stereotypical death-obsessed Goth girl, straight out of The Craft, keeps us guessing—in a state of constant uncertainty.
Nicole Kidman plays Evelyn Stoker (India’s Mother) with the shrewd, unstable severity that has become her hallmark. Like her character Grace Stewart in The Others, Kidman’s character is Gothic to the core; both are women who feel trapped in their large, dark, foreboding homes; both have a love-hate relationship with their children and seriously questionable parenting techniques. Most unnerving, both characters seem to have only the most tenuous grip on reality and sanity—perhaps just a single breakdown away from madness.
Matthew Goode is awesome as Uncle Charlie, and his interactions with his niece India are at the core of the film’s intensity. It’s his likability and his confidence that make him so terrifying; his good looks and affable nature allow him to act in a manner that’s downright predatory without making waves or raising red-flags. But just as we suspect India is some sort of super-human creature, we suspect Charlie is a similar creature. He’s clearly obsessed with his niece, but we vacillate on his motives; is he hoping to take on a fatherly role in India’s life, or are his goals purely sinister?
In a lot of ways, Stoker is like a reimagining of the Showtime franchise Dexter. India is a natural born killer, evident by her uncanny hunting skills. When her father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) took her out to shoot birds, he was intentionally focusing her skills on an activity accepted by society (lest her blood lust take her into darker territories). Just as Dexter had his father’s ghost on one shoulder acting as his conscience and his brother’s ghost on the other promoting the Id, India is torn between the influences of her dead father and her obsessed uncle.
While the relationship between India and Uncle Charlie is the main source of the film’s intensity, it’s also the most difficult aspect of Stoker to reconcile. In many respects, it’s not difficult to understand India’s attraction to Uncle Charlie: He’s charming to the max, more supportive and caring than her mother, and seems to understand her on a core level unlike anyone else. She’s a hormonal young woman with awakening sexual urges—urges that Charlie seems all too willing to stoke. And India is, technically, an adult, not some exploited Lolita. It’s almost enough to make us forget that Charlie is her Uncle… almost. Incest is still such a taboo (rightly so) that it turns any hint of romanticism into something disgusting.
While not a Horror movie in the strictest sense, Stoker is a thriller on par with some of the best works of Alfred Hitchcock (an obvious influence on the film). It’s far from a splatter-fest, but there is still enough violence and perversion to satisfy most Horror fans. Stoker will also appeal to fans of Modern Gothic films and literature. It’s an absolutely beautiful an unnerving experience for the senses.
3.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Directed by||Park Chan-wook|
|Produced by||Ridley Scott,
|Written by||Wentworth Miller|
|Music by||Clint Mansell|
|Editing by||Nicolas De Toth|
|Studio||Scott Free Productions,
|Distributed by||Fox Searchlight Pictures|