Stoker is an odd film to get a wide release in this country. It is a very adult story with a very distinct, often disorienting style. Random people walking into this movie based on seeing Nicole Kidman in the poster have no idea what they’re walking into. But that may be a good thing. Stoker is the kind of film that benefits from a lack of prior knowledge, its pleasures best unpacked as they are experienced. In fact, if you are interested in this film at all, I recommend you stop reading this review right now. Stoker is a simple story exquisitely told, and it is entirely worth the experience.
Withdrawn, antisocial India (Mia Wasikowska) is grieving the loss of her father. Her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who she previously had never heard of, suddenly rolls into town and quickly settles in. He charms her ineffectual mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and moves into their house. Charlie seems intent on getting close to India, but she's suspicious of his interest. But soon, she discovers his true nature, and is instead drawn to the darkness that she unveils.
There is a lot more to this, but it would probably be best to reveal nothing else. Even the previous synopsis might already be too much. This film is best seen knowing as little about it as possible. This is not because there are big twists to be unraveled; in fact, the film plays out in a fairly straightforward fashion. But the film is a unique enough experience that one really ought to go into the theater without the baggage of prior knowledge.
Suffice it to say that the film is strange and bold. It is often disorienting, at times in the best way possible. Director Park Chan-Wook, best known for his Vengeance trilogy of films, uses this Hollywood debut as a chance to experiment, playing around with Hitchcockian language and messing with the rhythm of his scenes. The story, again, is very straightforward, but Park tells it with considerable style. Even the most placid of scenes bearing an impending sense of doom, a tension so tightly wrung that the movie threatens to snap at every moment.
The rest of the production keeps up with the vision. Park brings along his frequent collaborator Chung Chung-Hoon as Director of Photography, and his camera produces a myriad of beautiful yet unsettling images. The production design builds a gothic world of ruin around the characters, combining apparent affluence with a clear sense of disrepair. Clint Mansell’s score piles on the atmosphere. The actors hold up their end as well. Mia Wasikowska brings to bear a visible awkwardness that blossoms into something genuinely terrifying. Matthew Goode’s intense charisma lends credence to everything that happens. And Nicole Kidman employs a passive cruelty that is fascinating to watch, even as it borders on parody.
Again, it is very difficult to talk about Stoker without compromising the experience. The thing about it is that it’s actually very light on story, and much of it plays out predictably. But it makes for a lush, if obvious metaphor, one that is realized quite beautifully on screen. It is not a perfect film by any means, but it is often a captivating one, brimming with unique, visceral imagery that doesn’t always make sense, but always grabs at something deep within the darker recesses of a person’s soul. The sheer otherness of the film makes it worth seeing. The experience is simply worth it.