Director Park Chan-wook creates a morbid environment for a sumptuous mystery to unfold in the wonderfully twisted Stoker.
India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is grieving the death of her father and coping with her fragile mother (Nicole Kidman) when an estranged relative, Charles (Matthew Goode), returns to the family home.
India ponders on maturity in the opening of Stoker: “Just as a flower does not choose its colour, we are not responsible for what we have come to be. Only once you realise this do you become free, and to become adult is to become free”. Screenwriter Wentworth Miller and Park introduce a teenager on the cusp of liberty who is coming to grips with her identity. India is a social outcast who displays obsessive behaviour and enhanced perceptions of the world. Looking for signposts in her family, India has no emotional connection with her mother, and through flashbacks, it’s revealed Papa Stoker was India’s protector who would curb her oddities by taking her hunting; abnormal daddy/daughter time. These are all clues that Miller expertly peppers throughout the story and the Park savors each dark family secret. There's also an unrelenting primal urge that pulses throughout Stoker driving India to fulfill the genetic disposition of her family tree. India's choice of footwear (school shoes which she has worn since birth) implies a cocoon of adolescence where she finds comfort. The arrival of Charles heralds an awakening of her instinctual libido as well as her killer impulses. What plays out is a coming of age story that subverts to a coming of the deranged.
Park takes every opportunity to escalate the drama and it’s aided by the superb work of cinematographer, Chung-hoon Chung, who makes each frame looks like a sinister Norman Rockwell painting. Park takes something that may seem mundane and makes it unforgettable. An example of Park’s incredible skill is a scene where a character with murderous intentions removes their belt. The tension mounts as the belt passes through each trouser loop which results in something horrific. Park operates in a similar way to filmmaker, Alfred Hitchcock, when Hitch made a guy stuck in a wheelchair absolutely thrilling in Rear Window.
Wasikowska broods like she’s carrying the gripes of the entire teenage population and if looks could kill she would be a serial killer; it’s a polarising performance. Goode has a phenomenal presence and oozes cool but is always one glare or crooked smile away from something completely terrifying. Kidman taps into a nice amount of maternal neurosis and gets a few great moments to unleash the crazy.
Stoker is a cunning riddle that’s bursting with luscious direction, intricate scripting and amazing performances. If there’s one psychotic family drama you see this year, make it this one.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies