STOKER is a sublimely photographed, gothic homage to the work of Hitchcock and broadly 1950s-60s Hollywood with South Korean auteur Chan-wook (OLDBOY) Park at the helm. After India Stoker's (Mia Wasikowska) father (Dermot Mulroney) dies, her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him. When Park decided direct his first english language film, with a script from PRISON BREAK star Wentworth Miller (and contributing writer Erin Cressida Wilson) to use the words of Django Unchained's Calvin Candie (Leo Dicaprio), "You had my curiosity, but now you have my attention."
Director Park and his cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung may have crafted the most exquisitely designed and purposefully constructed film that this reviewer has ever seen. Every single frame is bursting with detail. Whether it's the meticulous decor, the spatial economy, the symmetrical design or on several occasions multiple things happening within in the frame simultaneously. One scene in particular Charlie (Goode) is preparing a meal for the family. The setting sunlight casts the shadow of him poised, holding a knife against the wall behind India (Wasikowska) as they're conversing. It amplifies the ominous tension between the characters in such a wonderful speechless way. Writer Miller gives the exact dose of narrative so that director Park can pile upon layers and layers of texture. Within the confines of this Southern family and Gothic locale, the characters are predators and prey — its up to you to ascertain whose which.
The cross-section of three Australian leading ladies is a real treat. Weaver's wise Aunt, keeps the family secrets and injects herself into the situation with maternal protectiveness and fearful vulnerability. Kidman is built for characters that are in a state of flux. As a widow instead of traditional mourning she reverts to this strange adolescent state, reminded of her own youth by Charlie's presence and informing her attempted lure in the same style as she did with her husband in her youth. Kidman's like porcelain; it's a sheer, stable but exceptionally fragile facade concealing raw emotional nerves. The star of Stoker though is definitely Wasikowska. She's the antithesis of her mother; a wraith like sweet boarding school girl exterior veiling an unsettling nee spectral intelligence. Simultaneously, especially as you get flashbacks of her hunting with her father or see how she reacts as she's bullied, you realise the exterior cloaks a coiled viper.
In case Matthew Goode's photogenic charm wasn't enough with Tom Ford's THE SINGLE MAN, his enigmatic Charlie is just languidly idolised by Park's cinematic gaze. His hypnotic presence seismically ripples through the trio of women. If Hitchcock's gaze lingered on his leading ladies (Grace Kelly and Kim Novak particularly); Park flips the dynamic and lavishly idolises Goode's GQ model looks as he influences and intimidates with the same even cool.
A beautifully twisted story, masterfully composed and fiercely performed; Stoker is a hyper visual gothic thriller that can't be missed.
[rating=4] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Chan-wook Park Written by: Wentworth Miller Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Jackie Weaver and Dermot Mulroney.
STOKER is distributed by 20th Century Fox
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.