Rated: R Reviewed by: Jim Release date: March 22, 2013 Released by: Fox Searchlight Pictures
A hybrid genre item works best as a sensually macabre Gothic fairy tale more stylish and florid than substantive, the English-language debut of South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook.
Stoker stars Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right, Alice In Wonderland), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole, Nine) and Matthew Goode, and has a feel of the influences of Alfred Hitchcock as well as Lewis Carroll establishing an allegorical haunted house scenario notably when concerning creepy, crawly critters.
Beginning to be intimated with Wasikowska's increasingly keen India Stoker on her 18th birthday relates the point which for her is to become "free." Yet, perhaps in a Freudian twist she loses her father (Dermot Mulroney, also used in flash-backing) after some quality time to a mysterious auto accident.
India's jejune, aloof and needy trophy-wife mother Evie, a brusque, conflicted even theatrical Kidman, gets a boost upon the appearance of her brother-in-law Charlie (Goode, perhaps in his most interesting role since Match Point) at her husband's funeral. His smooth guise from a tombstone projects the predatory shadow that he'll cast over the rest of the proceedings that sets up an intriguing dynamic that does plenty with literary allusions to sate themes which include grief, of course. Especially after the struggles of the sensitive teen and her somewhat scary mom to get along.
The deft filmmaker instills a conflict of the stream-of-consciousness cat-and-mouse variety using the impressionable India in the variable, empowering state of adolescence in dealing with "peer pressure." One that Wasikowska (even if a tad old for the role) embraces with a kind of resourceful, piquant grace. Yes, the shivery, if desiring characters and their milieu have a familiarity to them as she's whisked into the darkly charismatic Uncle Charlie (maybe the casting personnel stoked Goode's good looks as far as they could for the part). Wentworth Miller's storytelling has its gaping, calculating and insinuating touches with characters like Jackie Weaver's Aunt Gwendolyn and Phyllis Somerville's cantankerous housekeeper which help keep the proceedings decidedly off-kilter.
Nonetheless, the internal and latent (spatially relational) struggle of India has a way to captivate, say, during a piano duet, in somewhat unnerving fashion, in an accomplished production, reflected in Clint Mansell's moody score. Stoker may have a thirst for the creator of Dracula but connects more from the standpoint of a striking interloper like Norman Bates or the filmmaker's Vengeance films, unfolding with some sleek, chimerical edge. Like the evocative juices from the visually heightened sensibilities that is slickly mounted to the complex disposition of and intense grip on its tenuous, if oddly fascinating family affair.