South Korean filmmaker, Chan-Wook Park, manages to turn his first film in the English language into a success with magnificent talents Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman. As a fan of the original Old Boy and Thirst, I had high expectations for Stoker. Park exceeded my expectations once again by turning this murderous family drama into one of the best and most visually stunning films of 2013.
Timid, 18-year-old India Stoker just lost her father to a car accident. As she’s blossoming into a woman and gaining more confidence with her sexuality, she’s left to deal with her emotionally unavailable mother (Kidman) and off-putting Uncle Charlie (Goode,) whom neither ladies had ever heard their dearly beloved mention before his untimely death.
India Stoker is playfully frightening at times. For the most part, she’s completely void of emotion though she’s a straight A student, talented artist, piano enthusiast, and successful animal hunter. Every year for her birthday, she is given a pair of the same shoes by her father. There’s a beautiful shot of her curled up in bed surrounded by boxes with a shoe size for every year. Her inappropriate closeness with her serial killer Uncle will have her stepping out of those shoes and slipping into a real woman’s heel. The two share sensual tension on the fringe of erupting. Especially, in an uncomfortable piano performance that captures the actor’s raw talent. It may sound incestuous but this incestuous line is never crossed.Â Mia Wasikowska nailed India’s character on key, without missing a beat, physically and emotionally. I have no doubts about India Stoker becoming the next iconic female character.
The Uncle’s unsettling, pretty-boy presence is intense and beyond inappropriate. The audience is aware upon arrival that this man is up to no good. His cheerful demeanor and clothing of choice at his brother’s wake is directly alarming. Uncle Charlie seems to arrive at the most critical moments and there seems to be some sort of psychological link between him and his niece. He will ultimately become the catalyst for India’s conversion into womanhood.
India’s mother Evelyn (Kidman) has limited time on screen but her performance as the grieving widow, desperate for male attention and desperate for a connection with her daughter is quite effective, “Personally speaking, I can’t wait to watch life tear you apart.”
The gorgeous cinematography and little artistic details captured by camera man Chung-hoon Chung will remain imprinted in my mind. The blood tipped pencil sharpening, grass and dirt dripping in the shower, splashes of blood on the grass and highway. Then my personal favorite, a spider exploring India’s leg. Â Even the set design, wardrobe, and coloring are all key ingredients that add to this perfect recipe.
On the hole, this plot could have easily been ruined. Brilliant film-making made Stoker a working piece of art that I will gladly revisit time and again. As should you.