Mia Wasikowska as India Stoker
Nicole Kidman as Evelyn Stoker
Matthew Goode as Charles Stoker
Phyllis Somerville as Mrs. McGarrick
Harmony Korine as Mr. Feldman
Lucas Till as Pitts
Alden Ehrenreich as Whip
Jacki Weaver as Gwendolyn Stoker
Dermot Mulroney as Richard Stoker
Tyler von Tagen as Young Richard Stoker
Thomas A. Covert as Young Charles Stoker
Jaxon Johnson as Jonathan Stoker
Peg Allen as Housekeeper 1
Lauren E. Roman as Housekeeper 2
David Alford as Reverend
Directed by Park Chanwook
India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is a loner, an outcast, a teenager who prefers to spend time alone or with her father, but on her 18th birthday, her father dies in a tragic car accident, leaving India alone with her already unstable mother (Nicole Kidman). Then her father’s brother Charles (Matthew Goode) shows up for reasons that are unclear and strange things start happening around India.
Without a question the big draw for “Stoker” is that it’s the first American movie from South Korea’s Park Chan-wook, the visionary director behind movies like “Oldboy,” “Lady Vengeance” and other thrillers that mix art with brutal violence. The premise for this coming-of-age thriller seems to be right up his alley as it follows one person’s quest to overcome adversity, although India Stoker is much younger than his previous protagonists.
We meet India as she’s frolicking outdoors on her birthday in a title sequence that could have been directed by Terrence Malick as her father dies in a car accident off screen, leaving India with her mother, played by Nicole Kidman. We don’t have much time to explore this relationship before India’s creepy Uncle Charlie, played by Matthew Goode, shows up. If you’re immediately thinking “Hey, there’s something wrong with this guy,” you probably would be right, and the fact it’s so easy to figure out where things are going leads to a movie that offers very few shocks or surprises.
The awkward introverted India also has do deal with being bullied at her high school, which seems to consist only of teen boys including one named Whip, played by Alden Ehrenreich (“Beautiful Creatures”), although by then, we already can determine that Charlie’s not going to like his treasured niece getting unwanted attention.
Mia Wasikowska is very good in a role that’s even more grown-up than some of the ones we’ve seen from her before and Matthew Goode does a fine job using his natural looks and charming to create menace. They’re very good together, adding to the erotic tension, particularly in a scene that could only be described as “piano sex,” although much of the line delivery is done in a deliberately stiff way to create the specific tone.
It serves very little purpose having an actress of Nicole Kidman’s caliber in the smaller role as India’s mother and she gives such a wooden performance, it brings very little to the creepy love triangle. Fellow Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver is even more underused–showing up for no apparent reason, then leaving just as quickly–but that’s par for a film that starts with so many satellite characters who quickly vanish with only one possible explanation.
The film is filled with so many scenes where we’re not sure if we’re watching reality or India’s fantasies that it wouldn’t be too surprising if Charlie proved to not be real or a figment of her imagination – don’t worry, they don’t go there. The big reveal about Charlie isn’t much better although the film does get infinitely more interesting once we go back in time and find out what happened to her father, played by Dermot Mulroney. The fact that any movie might get better with the introduction of Mulroney gives you some clue how boring this movie is up until that point.
Like all of director Park’s films, “Stoker” is a visual marvel where you could easily slide any single frame into a coffee table book and admire the film for its artistic beauty, the visuals perfectly accompanied by an equally gorgeous score by Clint Mansell. Unfortunately, the film lacks the originality of what made Park such a visionary with a few more than obvious visual rip-offs from Hitchcock’s “Psycho” although he gives the shower sequence his own distinctively perverse spin.
“Stoker’s” biggest hurdle is that it’s always fairly obvious where things are going and since it tends to go for creepy imagery over actual shocks, it never really delivers as a thriller.
The Bottom Line:
Ultimately, “Stoker” may look like a Park Chan-wook movie, yet it doesn’t feel as edgy or groundbreaking as we’ve come to expect from him, and much of that comes down to the derivative premise and weak script. Even moreso, there’s only so much Mia Wasikowska navel-gazing anyone should be forced to bear.