Main cast: Mia Wasikowska (India Stoker), Matthew Goode (Charlie Stoker), Nicole Kidman (Evelyn Stoker), Dermot Mulroney (Richard Stoker), Jacki Weaver (Gwendolyn Stoker), Lucas Till (Chris Pitts), Alden Ehrenreich (Whip Taylor), Phyllis Somerville (Mrs McGarrick), Ralph Brown (Sheriff Howard), and Judith Godrèche (Doctor Jacquin)
Director: Park Chan-wook
I never find Matthew Goode particularly attractive or sexy, and having a rear end as flat as an ironing board doesn’t help much. Sure the accent can be sexy, but come on. And then he plays the villain, and all of a sudden he morphs from a bland fellow into something more akin to an “Oh, my!” material. And in Stoker, he plays a psychotic, homicidal villain, and oh my indeed.
India Stoker, a young lady from a wealthy family, is close to her father Richard, but even then, she’s an emotionally closed-off creature that doesn’t like to be touched. The kids in school taunt and bully her, while at home her only good friend seems to be the housekeeper Mrs McGarrick. She is not close at all to her emotionally needy and self-absorbed mother Evelyn, although to be fair to Evelyn, India doesn’t make it easy for her to reconcile with that young lady either. Her world takes a nosedive when her father is killed in a tragic accident – which some whisper may be a suicide – shortly before this movie opens. Richard’s brother Charlie shows up at the funeral – someone neither Evelyn nor India know much about, although Mrs McGarrick seems to know him well enough – and it isn’t long before Evelyn lets him stay in their place. To India’s consternation, her mother soon attaches herself to Charlie, although Charlie disturbingly enough seems fixated on India for some reason. Ooh…
First off, it’s soon pretty clear that nobody in this movie is what people usually consider “normal”. Charlie obviously has secrets, possibly dangerous ones, and he has this tendency to stare blankly ahead when he thinks that nobody’s watching him too closely. India is on her way to becoming a whackjob herself, as she is self-absorbed to an exaggerated degree when she’s not acting like a socially maladjusted person. She also seems to be easily distracted by shining lights and repeated motions of objects around her. Evelyn is probably the most human of the lot, as she’s “merely” an unhappy woman who has long felt trapped in her marriage to Richard and desperately wants an out. The director contributes to the whole “We are a bunch of very wealthy but totally unlikable, bratty lot” by having these characters for a long time doing nothing particularly noteworthy, just sniping and snarling at one another when they are not glowering for long seconds. He also likes to have the camera zoom in on Ms Wasikowska’s lips and billowing skirts as well as legs quite often – must be a Korean thing.
And yet, the whole thing works. Mr Goode is creepy and yet, weirdly attractive in his homicidal lunatic ways, while India is no victim but rather a budding creepy-attractive nutjob in the making herself. These two have some pretty intense screwed-up dynamic going on – there is something about how he watches on approvingly as she takes on her bullies with a pencil in her hand that can be quite touching and sweet, really. Also, it is worth noting how she becomes fascinated by her uncle only after she discovers his homicidal tendencies. This one is adorably twisted family, I tell you.
Oh, and there is also this long-drawn piano duet between India and Charlie that ends with her acting like she has… you know. Really subtle there, that Mr Park.
Despite long stretches of dark glowers and slow-motion movements, these scenes are set up in a darkly graceful, poetic manner without being too pretentious in the process. There are some solid build up of tension and fear here, and while the movie takes a while to get there, once the body count begins, the fun just keeps coming. The script, written by Wentworth Miller of all people, occasionally confuses ham and cheese for cleverness, but Mr Park manages to put everything together into a coherent, compelling, and mesmerizing tale of a perverted kind of coming of age of a young girl, and the solid cast only makes everything better. Stoker isn’t a conventional thriller, but it definitely deliver the goods.