Film review: STOKER, from Built For Speed

Stoker is a bizarre, hypnotic American gothic thriller which, as might be expected given its title’s reference to Dracula author Bram Stoker, revels in an atmosphere of menace.

The prolific Mia Wasikowska stars as the sullen and taciturn teenager India Stoker who lives a Carrie-like existence with her comically flaky mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) in a large dilapidated southern mansion. Following her Father’s (Dermot Mulroney) recent and apparently accidental death, India learns that her previously unknown uncle, the suave but creepy Charlie, will be staying with them.  As Charlie exerts his grip over the household, India is oddly drawn to him even though he seems to be involved in a series of bizarre and disturbing incidents.

As the strange and sinister events unspool, the film, directed by Chan-Wook Park and scripted by former Prison break star Wentworth Miller Stoker, barely adheres to a linear narrative and doesn’t always make sense.  Character motivations aren’t always clear and odd, hallucinogenic flashbacks occasionally leave us unsure of where we are in time. This may irritate some viewers but will thrill those who enjoy filmmakers meddling with genre conventions.

Director Chan-Wook Park appears to be more concerned with creating an unusual tone and striking imagery rather than telling a straightforward story. He and cinematographer Chung-Hoon Chung fashion some stunning tableaux in the Stoker family’s beautiful but threatening southern idyll.  Park, who helmed the remarkable Old Boy employs a deliberately intrusive directorial style with extreme close-ups and exaggerated sound-effects that are not only unsettling but powerfully create the feeling of a mind fracturing.

Although darkness pervades this film, it is occasionally quite funny, particularly the early scenes that introduce us to the oddball Stoker household and depict the fractious relationship between the brooding India and her ditzy mother.

Mia Wasikowska is terrific in a role that sees her feature in nearly every scene.  With her dowdy Wednesday Adams dresses and a hard facial expression that seems to conceal a slithering nest of disturbing thoughts, Wasikowska is wonderfully creepy.  Still, she manages to find something fragile and sympathetic in her character, particularly when India is harassed by meat-heads at school.

Although the films in which she has appeared have varied wildly in quality, Nicole Kidman has produced some impressive performances in recent years and here she is excellent, if a little underused as a trashy, acerbic, half-sozzled Southern Belle. Completing a trio of fine Aussie performances, Jackie Weaver also pops up in a brief but memorable role.

Matthew Goode seems to have a remarkable talent for playing repulsive characters. He was suitably detestable as the unhinged chef in the Australian film Burning Man and he’s wonderfully unnerving here as the charming but threatening Charlie.

It’s unlikely that anyone would be disappointed with Stoker although audiences wanting a straightforward, action-packed thriller may find this slow-burn film a little opaque.  Those looking for an original and artistically brave take on family drama and Hitchcockian mystery will find this film a refreshingly weird and disturbing experience.


Nick’s rating:  Three and a half stars.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Chan Wook Park.

Release date: 29th Aug 2013

Running time:  124 mins.


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