Movie Review: Stoker

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When insular teen India Stoker’s father dies, her uncle Charlie comes to stay with her and her unstable mother in their home, revealing that the Stoker family aren’t all they seem to be.

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Park Chan-wook, 2013

India (Mia Wasikowska) seems to be lost when her father dies; her distant, difficult relationship with her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) doesn’t provide her with any solace. Enter Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), whose 20-year long absence from their life is explained away by travelling the world and whose charm lures Evelyn into flirtation. India is less convinced; in fact, she goes out of her way to avoid Charlie and all his attempts to bring her into his web until she starts to discover there might be something more sinister below the surface that the darkness inside of her connects with. India’s heightened senses and burgeoning sexuality begin to interweave with the violence and darkness around her as she enters adulthood.

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This Hollywood directorial debut from Park Chan-wook explores themes of female power, sexuality, and violence in an arresting, stunningly shot fever dream. Other reviews of this film, even positive reviews, discuss its style over substance, and it is certainly stylish. A kind of gothic hipster’s wet dream, the film has a sinister creepiness to it; empty space emphasise characters’ loneliness, dissonant music and cutting lend weight to its protagonists’ fractured mental states, and details are mulled over in long close-up shots that highlight the beauty of scary and horrifying things. The supernatural elements to the Stoker family are understated and left undefined, but they allow the film to explore its environment in new and fascinating ways; scenes such as India’s hunting trip with her father gather new layers of meaning as the film progresses. Piano playing features heavily, the power struggle between Charlie and India highlighted in a scene where they play together, each vying for position but ultimately making music that is both beautiful and sinister. However, the subversive nature of the script and its genre-defying storytelling are not done justice by simply reviewing the director’s style.

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Protagonist India refuses to be pigeonholed.

The script, from former Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, was inspired by Hitchcock and vampire mythology. While the first half of this film is mostly eerie build-up, with visuals telling the story and connecting the various threads, there’s a scene halfway through that defines the rest of the story. It begins with an attempted sexual assault (handled in a much different and far less offensive way than this year’s Kick-Ass 2, for instance), which triggers the violence in Charlie and India to come out and come together. India’s incestuous obsession with her handsome uncle is understood; he becomes, in a sense, her mentor in learning to understand herself and the secret she’s always held within her. The film follows her on her path to adulthood, represented visually through a change in her shoes and by an impressive performance from Wasikowska that matures as the character does. All three of the leads perform their parts impeccably and work well together; Nicole Kidman delivers a powerful speech towards the end that really brings her fear and jealousy of India to the fore.

There are no easy conclusions for this film to come to. India is a dark, complex and powerful female protagonist whose future isn’t clear-cut, and the implications are ominous. However this movie is gorgeous, thoughtful and powerful, an artistic film that I think will be praised and better understood in years to come.

Stoker on IMDb

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