I found myself oddly detached and entranced while watching Stoker. There is a beauty in it’s coldness as if to say that taking a step back will reveal the dirty secrets that are hiding just under emotion. This film teases and sways, never really letting the audience get comfortable. It evokes many themes and doesn’t smash the references into our consciousness. They are there if you want to see them, but you can comprehend the movie without. It is not quite horror, but not quite a thriller. It sits on the edge of categorization without committing to any.
The plot of Stoker is ridiculously simple. Charles Stoker (Matthew Goode) arrives at the home of his brother Richard’s family on the day of that brother’s funeral. Surviving Richard are his wife Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and his daughter India (Mia Wasikowski). Evelyn and India welcome Charles into their home although Evelyn knows very little about him and India did not know he even existed. Evelyn has taken to wine to try and ease the pain and allows herself to become involved with Charles. Meanwhile, India can see something is wrong with her uncle and becomes infatuated with him anyway. Family dynamics are severely tested as this unorthodox love triangle struggles to find out the truth of each other.
Stoker is directed by Chan-wook Park of Oldboy fame. Oldboy was a fantastic revenge thriller out of South Korea that blew my mind in 2003 when it came out. Here he takes a very different style, letting things move at a much slower pace with glistening visuals. He seems to be channeling Hitchcock and, indeed, there are many shots that are reminiscent of Hitchcock’s more famous pieces. There is a shot of Matthew Goode peering at someone through a window that felt like it would have been in place in Psycho. This film borders on noir, but has bright and luscious colors. Every shot looks beautiful and plays into the visual storytelling. I believe the film is at its best when there is no dialogue. This could survive as a silent film and still be brilliantly effective. Perhaps, even, a museum piece that changes as you look at it. A moving canvas with the ability to surprise at any moment.
Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode are both superb in their roles. Kidman is stellar as a grieving widow that has a tenuous grasp on her surroundings. She has outbursts and seems jealous of India and the relationship she had with her father. It is hinted at that much of what we see in Kidman’s performance is seen through the eyes of India. She acts the way India sees it, which may or may not be the truth. This holds true with Matthew Goode’s Charlie as well. Certain scenes make the audience hold some disbelief in the relationship, such as the piano scene. Matthew Goode brings a refined creepiness to his presence and exudes that unsettling behavior throughout the film. He is charm and charisma filtered through an unbalanced mind. The performances are astounding and match the visuals in impact.
The only drawback for me was Mia Wasikowski and it comes with a caveat. I have often thought of Wasikowski’s performances as bland and lacking any emotional weight. She always seems to be holding something back and never lets that calm demeanor falter. I did not think that her style suited her role in Alice in Wonderland, but it does actual suit the style here. She does not detract from this film in any way, yet, she doesn’t show any more depth than she normally does. While it is fitting for this role it does not give me any more hope for her future roles.
Stoker worked for me all around. I enjoyed the style and the performances. Park’s direction was deliberate and beautiful. He captured wonderful images and stylized the performances of his actors to fit his vision. This film won’t work for everyone due to the tone and content, but for those with the heart to watch I recommend it.