JDIFF 2013 Review – Stoker

After the death of her father, India’s (Mia Wasikowska) mysterious uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to live with the family. Both India and her mother are dealing with their grief in different ways, and although it is clear that Charlie is more than he seems, each woman responds to him in different ways.

Park Chan-Wook is best known for his films Oldboy and Lady Venegence, but with Stoker he has moved away from bloody revenge thrillers into the world of a psychological thriller. The magic of the film is that even though the film is as blood splattered as some of Chan-Wook’s earlier work, it is balanced through beautiful cinematography that also adds layers of mystery to the film.

Mia Wasikowska takes on the lead role of India, and even though she immediately seems as charismatic as cardboard, as the film goes in she manages to make India as mysterious and complex as her uncle. India is on the verge of adulthood and, as she gets to know herself under her uncle’s watchful gaze, she blooms on screen.

Matthew Goode is deliciously wicked throughout the film. It is clear that Charlie is keeping a close watch on his niece, but he knows that he must get close to her mother in order to stay in the house. Goode’s gaze is electric and the audience cannot help but watch him, watching India. Goode, as Charlie, is almost animalistic or vampiric; like a predator stalking his prey, she is the sole focus of his gaze. The film revolves around the chemistry between Goode and Wasikowska, which works incredibly well. Nicole Kidman has rather less to do than her co-stars, but as the antagonist in the house, she is a vital presence as it is she that pushes Charlie and Mia together. Kidman excels at playing brittle character, ready to snap, so she is comfortable here.

Stoker is one of the most sumptuous and intensely coloured films seen in recent years; every frame of the film is wash with colour and some incredibly smart cinematography makes for seamless cuts. This adds a flow to the film that mirrors India’s flow into becoming the person who she somehow already knows herself to be. Although this is not the story we expect it to be, there are plenty of nods to the title, including a delicious nod to Bela Lugosi’s Dracula involving some creative piano playing.

The film is an incredibly slow burn, but where the film suffers is through a climax that is surprisingly anticlimactic and frankly, obvious. It feels as though screenwriter Wentworth Miller – who knew that the guy from Prison Break could write?! – backed himself into a corner, writing wise, and took the easy way out. A shame that the film ends with a whimper, and not the bang that could have been expected.

Stoker is a luscious feast for the eyes and those who like their villains deliciously wicked will find all of their needs fulfilled with Goode’s fiendish performance. Wasikowska blends mystery and blandness in a rather intriguing manner, but the film ultimately suffers from a disappointing denouement that lets the film down, although the finale goes some way to making up for it.

Rating: 4/5

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