Synopsis: After India’s (Mia Wasikowska) father dies in an auto accident, her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her emotionally unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Soon after his arrival, she comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives, but instead of feeling outrage or horror, this friendless girl becomes increasingly infatuated with him.
Release Date: March 1, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Thriller, Mystery
South Korean director Chan-wook Park has built a career out of including graphic, violent images in his movies. He has achieved cult status for his Korean language films, particularly the “Vengeance Trilogy,” consisting of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance. His English language debut, Stoker, is somewhat Americanized, taking out much of the gore of his earlier work while keeping his directorial signature intact.
Stoker is the story of India Stoker (Alice in Wonderland‘s Mia Wasikowska), a girl whose father, Richard (The Grey‘s Dermot Mulroney) is killed in a car accident. Shortly after the funeral, India and her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman from Eyes Wide Shut and Moulin Rouge!), are visited by Richard’s brother, Charlie (Watchmen‘s Matthew Goode). The really interesting thing about Uncle Charlie is that India had no idea that he existed until he showed up.
Despite warnings from Aunt Ginnie (Jacki Weaver from Silver Linings Playbook), the Stokers allow Charlie to move in and stay for a while. He has an immediate connection with India and seems to be trying to take her father’s place…in every way. Uncle Charlie, however, is not at all what he seems, and India learns that there is a reason why her father kept his brother’s existence a secret for so many years.
The screenplay for Stoker was written by first-time screenwriter Wentworth Miller, who is better known as Michael Scofield on Fox’s “Prison Break.” It’s a very chilling tale that is perfectly suited for Chan-wook Park’s visual style. The pacing is deliberately slow, building up as much tension as possible as the secrets of the story are gradually revealed.
The script holds its cards close to its chest, purposely keeping the audience on the edge of its seat before dropping any bombs. Once the pieces fall into place, the impact is astounding. The combination of Park’s imagery with the almost deafening silence that accompanies it sets the viewer up for an ending that is as shocking as it is obvious – a real “why didn’t I see that coming” moment.
In today’s Hollywood, Stoker is a bit of an anomaly. It’s a compelling story that is also perfectly executed. Wentworth Miller and Chan-wook Park are a good team; both the creative elements of Miller’s script and the technical aspects of Park’s direction come together into a film that is a watershed moment for both men. Not only is it a solid first screenwriting effort for Miller, but Stoker takes a step forward for Park while still nodding back to his past.
Chan-wook Park’s stamp is all over Stoker, partly because he uses his long-time cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, but mostly because he knows what he wants to see. Park and Chung put painstaking effort into the details of every single frame, and the results are a flawlessly shot film. There is subtle camera movement in nearly every shot, just enough to give the film a fluid quality that aids in unsettling the viewer.
Like Park’s earlier films, special attention is paid to color, and Stoker is shot with earthy, drab colors so that when something bright like a flower or a spot of blood shows up, it’s eye-drawing. A continuing motif in the photography is division; Park and Chung use different obstacles and objects in the framing to separate the screen, showing distance between two or more characters. It’s the little things like that in Stoker that add up to make it a beautifully crafted film.
Although it’s not a typical horror film, Stoker is frightening in a different way. Parkâs typical violence and gore are toned down considerably, resulting in a film that is more subtle and subliminal. The fear that is inspired by Stoker is more of an understated creep than a full blown scream. That’s not to say that there is no gore; it wouldn’t be a Chan-wook Park film without blood, but Stoker trickles instead of splashes.
The real eeriness comes from the characters, particularly Uncle Charlie’s obsessive stalker thing and India’s Wednesday Adams vibe. Stoker is a highly intelligent horror film, relying not on cheap scares but real shock to achieve its goal. It’s not so much the film itself that is frightening – it’s the ideas behind it.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Chan-wook Park
- Screenwriter(s): Wentworth Miller
- Cast: Nicole Kidman (Evelyn ‘Evie’ Stoker), Jacki Weaver (Aunt Gwendolyn ‘Gin’ Stoker), Mia Wasikowska (India Stoker), Dermot Mulroney (Richard Stoker), Matthew Goode (Uncle Charlie Stoker), Lucas Till (Chris Pitts)
- Music Score: Clint Mansell
- Country Of Origin: USA