Sunday, September 1, 2013

Stoker: A Review (Review #564)


I will always defend Mia Wasikowska (my not-so-secret love).  She can do no wrong in my eyes.  I am convinced she is one of the best actresses around, a future legend.  While Stoker shows off the range that she can achieve, the film itself left me rather cold and dissatisfied. 

India Stoker (Wasikowska) has recently lost her beloved father Richard (Delmot Mulroney).  At his funeral, her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) introduces India to Richard's brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode) whom she has never met.  Uncle Charlie soon takes a cool hold over his sister-in-law and niece.  This alarms Aunt Gin (Jacki Weaver) but she is quickly disposed of. 

India for her part is being bullied by Pitts (Lucas Till), who nicknamed her 'Stroker'.  While Whip (Alden Ehrenreich) is not a bully to her, India still is an odd fit in school.  India pretty much knows that Uncle Charlie is a serial killer, and we see that she herself has violent tendencies.  She stabs Pitts in the hand, and while it looks like she makes an effort to connect to Whip, when he tries to get fresh with her she takes a stand.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) for her, Uncle Charlie has been around, and takes care of Whip.

Evelyn eventually suspects that Uncle Charlie is dangerous, and India, now that she is 18, learns the true story of her Uncle Charlie and her beloved father.  Far from being on academic expeditions, Uncle Charlie has been in an institution after he murdered his younger brother by burying him alive at the foot of a slide.  Richard has pretty much suspected that his brother would cause danger to his daughter, which explains all those hunting trips he and India took together.   Stoker ends with a confrontation between India and Uncle Charlie, and with the idea that India takes on a family tradition.

I think the idea that India would somehow take on Uncle Charlie's mantle is what I had trouble with.  It seemed both a bit pat and predictable in Wentworth Miller's screenplay that somehow the killing gene would infect the family.  I didn't buy it.  I thought again it was something that was almost expected.

I do want to concentrate on what was good in Stoker.  The performances of Wasikowska and Goode were effective and well-crafted.  Wasikowska was perfect as the morose, suspicious India, and Goode was equally excellent as the charming Uncle Charlie.  They worked well together, and the tension and suggestion of barely repressed desire by Uncle Charlie for his niece is handled well (though still rather creepy). 

Of particular ability is Goode as Uncle Charlie, who never shifted from the purposefully thin veneer of a charming, handsome man who we should know is dangerous but who still can fool people into thinking he is what he appears to be.

It is the performances of Goode and Wasikowska which makes Stoker bearable, but for my tastes it moved slowly and I never believed that either of the Stoker women could easily be taken in by someone this dangerous.  Moreover, the use of 'Uncle Charlie' is a deliberate reference to Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, but I am troubled by any film that is so brazen in its use of a similar character in a film.

Park Chan-wook, the celebrated South Korean director in his English-language debut, certainly makes Stoker visually arresting.  Certain transitions are beautifully rendered, and the film certainly is beautiful to look at (though again, a bit artsy for my tastes).  However, on the whole I was not convinced that Stoker was believable, and while I admired two great actors (sadly, both Kidman and Weaver were not on screen long enough to leave a long-lasting impression) I was left unmoved by Stoker


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