Thursday, February 28, 2013


Stoker (2013)
Dir. Park Chan-Wook

4 out of 5

Life isn't easy for India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), a artistic loner whose beloved father dies on her 18th birthday, leaving her all alone with Evie (Nicole Kidman), India's flighty flibbertigibbet of a mother.  Her handsome Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) unexpectedly materializes after the funeral, causing further strain by moving in and getting a little too cozy with Evie - not to mention the mounting evidence that lurking underneath his suave facade is a psychopath and a murderer.  But despite quickly seeing Charlie for what he is, India gradually finds that his presence has unusual effects on her pent-up frustrations and raging hormones, an unsettling transformation that Stoker explores as a sly, stylish cross between an Electra complex-thriller and a Gothic horror film.

Stoker marks the English-language directorial debut of Korean maestro Park Chan-Wook, whose Vengeance Trilogy introduced Western audiences to his penchant for operatic emotions and viscerally disturbing action.  It's also the screenwriting debut of Wentworth Miller, the actor best known for his role as a heavily tattooed inmate on the TV series Prison Break.  His first script navigates confused waters, combining a coming-of-age drama with a vengeance tale.  But it displays an admirable ambition in attempting to stretch a Lolita-lite subtext around the bones of a genre thriller.  Thankfully, Stoker is blessed with a highly talented cast that shapes the material into something resembling a theatrical tragedy.  The Wasikowska-Goode-Kidman trio gives the film an effectively combustible vibe, each serving as a potential fuse to the powder keg that is the Stoker residence.

Though its title suggests a supernatural brand of malevolence, the evil in Stoker comes from a primal, almost instinctual place, amped up by Park and Miller's shared relish for heavy-handed symbolism.  India slipping off her saddle shoes and into a pair of heels is meant to be a sledgehammer blow to her eroding innocence, and her first close encounter with Charlie's dark side literally ends with a furtive scrubdown in the shower (though it also includes a denouement that's bound to raise some eyebrows).  Wasikowska is magnificent in a challenging role that requires her to be impressionable but not exactly vulnerable.  Her co-stars are equally impressive, from Kidman's wine-addled spin on Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest to Goode's blankly beautiful cipher with twice the creepy charisma of Ted Bundy.

Stoker is best when it communicates its twisted story with spellbinding clarity, especially its virtuosic flashbacks to Charlie's past and a wild climax that successfully brings an hour and half of mounting tension to a head.  While Park will probably never top his classic Oldboy in terms of dramatic payoff, Stoker is an entertaining and controversial film in its own right, another devilishly dark fable about how parental figures can warp their progeny in unintended and terrifying ways.

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