Park Chan-Wook’s first English language film, Stoker, is all about family, and the blood that runs through it. It highlights the traits and characteristics of family members who are linked by blood and not by marriage. In Stoker, if you’re linked by marriage, you’re an outsider, someone who isn’t in on the whole story. If you’re linked by blood, you may find that there is a dark impulse lurking within you that just needs the right push to… flourish.
This “push” comes in the form of Uncle Charlie (creepy, yet charming, played by Matthew Goode), the younger brother of India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska) recently deceased father. He arrives at the Stoker mansion on the day of his brother’s funeral, unexpected, but well-received. He seems friendly enough, willing to socialize and meet the folks, most of whom are faceless and completely irrelevant to the story. All the while, he has one eye on little awkward India, who until now, had no idea of Uncle Charlie’s existence. For some reason, she seems to be the reason he’s there, and not his dead brother.
She is, of course, disturbed by this, finding every opportunity available to sneak past him, away from his sight. And then he drops a bombshell: He’s going to be living with her and her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), indefinitely. And so begins the story proper. Uncle Charlie fits right in, taking interest in everything Evelyn loves to do: Piano, tennis, etc. He’s almost like her husband reincarnated. And still, he has one eye on India. At school, he acts like India’s bodyguard. There to pick her up, there to watch over her as she defends herself from horny bullies. She refuses to entertain him, choosing instead to take the bus home while he zooms behind it in his convertible Jag with all the girls in the bus oo-ing and ahh-ing. He’s a sexy beast all right.
He integrates himself deeper and deeper into the household, and when he saves India from a possible rape one night, she starts to get attracted to him. The mystery, the looks, the concern, the brute strength and the lack of conscience. Maybe she sees a bit of herself — and her father — in him as well? Whatever it is, it gets a little bizarre when she pleasures herself in the shower while thinking of him.
The mystery of Uncle Charlie is what brings the story to its climax. Similar to Chan-Wook’s classic, Oldboy, the twist, or rather the explanation, comes in the form of photographs and letters. They reveal dark truths about the Stoker family, and because India is a Stoker with the same Stoker blood pulsing through her veins, she doesn’t seem fazed by them. In fact, she embraces them. It is the courtship with danger that most intrigues the awkward and the different. Something to jar them out of their mundane existence.
Chan-Wook is known for his immaculate cinematography and the gruesome nature of his stories. Both can be found in Stoker. It is quite a beautiful movie, paced to perfection, with violence represented with taste and consideration. The story, however, is not written by him. It is written by Prison Break hunk, Wentworth Miller. Dark, classy, and filled with haunting secrets, it is wonderfully constructed. The dialogue, on the other hand, isn’t as sophisticated as it should be. The movie is smart, and needs dialogue that can match it, but there isn’t. Nicole Kidman, in particular, is given some of the worst lines, falling back on cliche and saying words that won’t often leave the lips of a normal person. But maybe I am being fussy, because none of the Stoker characters are normal. They are like moving sculptures, slow to respond, but always pleasing to look at.
As is the movie. Stoker is thoroughly pleasing. When it was first announced, I thought it had something to do with Bram Stoker and Dracula. That maybe its characters were vampires (they even look a little vampiric in the posters). But Bram Stoker is merely the inspiration for this psychological thriller. Miller takes it in a whole different direction, far away from its fanged roots, and deep into the psyche of the criminally insane. The sins of the father are passed to the son? Well, this time, the sins of the uncle are passed to the niece.
Best Moment | It involves India, her mother, her uncle, and a sniper/hunting rifle. I can’t say more. But it was a moment that brought great relief to my heart.
Worst Moment | Whip’s sudden and drastic character shift.