Starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode
Like his past films, “Stoker” is a slow, practically plodding story that requires patience and wouldn’t be recommended for the easily offended. It is dark, violent and disturbing—three words I enjoy seeing before the description of any film.
India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is a bookish, quiet and peculiar teenager who has just lost her father (Dermot Mulroney) in a car accident. Her mother (Nicole Kidman) has a difficult time connecting with her daughter. Their already strained relationship is further complicated by the loss their family has endured. Things get more complicated when India’s uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode), shows up. He’s handsome, intelligent and seems to be making advances toward her mother. India’s mother and Charlie begin spending an uncomfortable amount of time together. People start talking. Charlie tells India he plans on sticking around for awhile. The story becomes infinitely more complex as the movie progresses.
“Stoker” is a slow burn. It doesn’t give a lot of information early on. The movie unfolds, making each reveal feel substantial and each perverse twist feel like a revelation. I don’t want to give the twists away, but let’s just say no one in the film is as innocent as they first appear; everyone has an agenda. Like a good family drama, this one is all about the secrets everyone hides. Once Park begins to let us in on them, the movie truly comes to life.
Mia Wasikowska is a curious onscreen presence. She does a great job of bringing a quiet intensity to India, kind of like Norman Bates with a “Y” chromosome. Nicole Kidman is one of the few actresses that has gracefully transitioned into middle age. We don’t see her in many major releases anymore, but her work in smaller, more personal films has been impressive. Matthew Goode (“Watchmen,” “A Single Man”) manages to be effectively creepy as the boundary-crossing charmer who has his own plans for the family. “Stoker” is a small film populated by only a handful of characters. Thankfully, they’re up to the task of keeping interest.
Like most Chanwook Park films, there will be those who ravenously delight in its weirdness, and there will be those who have a hard time connecting to material that prides itself on being slow. “Stoker” is a fantastic antidote to the garbage lining the Cineplex right now. It’s a flawed gem. There are a few moments that feel awkward and a little ridiculous. The movie is populated with high-school bullies that feel cribbed from “High School Musical.” They walk around acting tough, deliver some truly terrible lines, and prance about like they’re a moment away from breaking into song. The movie is at its worst when it ventures into the world, away from the creepy, Stoker family. When the three characters are in the house doing their disturbing little dance, the movie is hypnotic.
We could use more films like “Stoker.” It reminds me of those suburban thrillers from the likes of Alfred Hitchcock: stories of twisted souls and evil bubbling just beneath the surface of a well-manicured lawn. The movie requires patience; I could easily see some people dismissing the film for a lack of any immediate payoff. We’ve become so trained in expecting certain story beats to occur at a scheduled pace that a film requiring the audience to wait will almost assuredly be dismissed. That’s unfortunate. Rewarding a patient audience takes real talent. Every macabre turn “Stoker” makes seems almost jarring because it eschews the conventional thriller paradigm. Even calling it a “thriller” seems disingenuous. This is a low-fi, art house movie dissecting some disturbing personalities.