The family drama is an all too familiar genre, but add dark humor, murder and incest to the mix and it makes for a fun, demented thriller. In “Stoker,” Korean director Chan-wook Park teeters between art and vulgarity. While the script from Wentworth Miller (“Prison Break”) needs to be fleshed out more, I couldn’t look away while watching the events unfold, much like a horrific car accident.
India’s father (Dermot Mulroney) dies on her 18th birthday, leaving India (Mia Wasikowska) alone with her icy mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). On the day of her father’s funeral, India meets Uncle Charles (Matthew Goode) for the first time. Evelyn invites Charles to stay with them, despite India’s protestations. On the surface, Charles has the best intentions. Regardless, India’s suspicions about her uncle loom. Over time, her suspicions evolve into an infatuation, and they share an intimate moment that awakens the real India.
Half of the fun of “Stoker” is its big reveal near the end, which is why I won’t go into too much detail about the plot. Still, Park’s directing skills, specifically how he plays with sound, color and texture, is reason enough to go see the movie. It’s unsettling to watch India glide a hard-boiled egg across the table and hear it’s shell slowly cracking, as if were the sound of bones being crushed. Sound plays a crucial role in “Stoker,” and it’s the most blatant similarity between India and Charles. Their shared hypersensitivity unites them and forces India to accept her true nature, something her father tried to suppress. Interestingly, it’s never made clear just how close India and her father were, but Evelyn’s resentment towards her husband as well as India implies the unthinkable.
Mulroney and Kidman give solid performances, but it’s Goode and Wasikowska that stand out. Goode was perfectly cast as the handsome stranger. In addition to being incredibly good-looking, Goode possesses an innate charm. Like Goode, Charles is charismatic, which makes it difficult for Evelyn or India to see through to his ulterior motives. I’ve liked Wasikowska ever since I saw her in “The Kids are All Right.” And while India’s wardrobe resembles Wednesday’s from “The Addams Family,” Wasikowska’s tenacity and intelligence reminds me of her role as Jane Eyre in “Jane Eyre.” Largely due to Wasikowska’s performance, I both feared and admired India.
Miller creates a compelling story with rich characters and unexpected plot twists. Unfortunately, the writing stumbles through a few scenes. India’s motives are not always made clear. And while I might not fully understand the meaning behind “Stoker,” I got a kick out of seeing Park and the actors experiment with the material.