Dir. Park Chan-wook
(2013, R, 98 minutes)
Stoker opens with a setup very much like Alfred Hitchcock‘s Shadow of a Doubt, one of my favorite of his films, in which a teenage girl is suspicious after a mysterious uncle moves in. In this film, Mia Wasikowska plays the teen, India Stoker, and the uncle, Charlie, is played by Matthew Goode, an actor whose large, striking blue eyes have proven effective in roles both dashing (Match Point) and sinister (The Lookout).
India’s father has just died in a car accident. Her mother (Nicole Kidman) seems more concerned with the social obligations of mourning than with mourning itself. Charlie arrives, and India isn’t sure why; she’s never even heard of him.
Some of the story details in Wentworth Miller‘s script are a bit murky – the story skips around in time, evoking India’s fractured thoughts, memories, and emotions – but the film is less interested in whodunnit than in who its characters are, and its impeccable style compensates a great deal for its occasional confusions.
It’s directed by Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook, making his English-language debut. With editor Nicolas De Toth and cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon he develops an eye-popping gothic style, creating an eerie mood with unusual compositions, extreme close-ups, mysterious interiors, and wide, lonely exteriors.
Wasikowska, Kidman, and Goode are all excellent in bringing to life the film’s dark, ambiguous psychology. Wasikowska is especially impressive because she has the most difficult task; though Charlie’s intentions are unknown, in a way it’s India who is the film’s biggest mystery. The actress reveals a little but holds a lot back, keeping thoughts, ideas, and compulsions simmering under the surface, so when she takes unexpected turns I believe them, but am still curious. By the end, I’m not sure that I know her perfectly well, but I know I’m fascinated by her. And maybe a little scared.