SUNDANCE: Stoker (***)


stoker_ver5Stoker is a delightfully demented film that derives its pleasures from uncomfortable situations, shocking violence and magnetic characters. Chan-wook Park bring his trademark visual style to deliver a feast for the eyes. And yet despite this and some fabulous performances from Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman, the plot never lets you embrace the film as fully as you might want. It’s an incredible film, albeit one that keeps you a bit at arms length when it should be wrapping you up in a creepy embrace.

The film kicks off with a flash forward to India standing on the side of an open road. We don’t know the rhyme or reason for her being there, but she seems happy. We then flashback to the main story where upon India’s father’s death, her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) returns to a family that barely remembers him. Her mother Evie (Nicole Kidman) is instantly charmed by Charlie but India is very standoffish. As Charlie begins integrating himself into their lives little by little, India becomes curious in his strange ways. The relationship grows more twisted as the film continues and the Pas-de-duex between good and evil ramps up the tension until the shocking and violent conclusion.

The visuals of Stoker are incredible, with director Park having as much fun shocking the audience as he did showing off his virtuosic directing abilities. There’s a particular shot of India brushing her mother’s hair that slowly bleeds into a flashback of her hunting with her father that’s simply jaw-dropping. It’s a modern Southern Gothic thriller in the best ways, with the murder scenes and violence artfully shot, yet still creepy. I also rather enjoyed the use of closeups in this film. Rather than detracting from the story, Park’s camera just holds you in it’s terror, particularly when it involves Nicole Kidman.

Nicole Kidman is fantastic as India’s mother. Kidman is one of the most adventurous actresses alive today and she gives it her all in this film. The film’s entire marketing campaign is centered around her “mother from hell”, surprising given that I found her to be the most sympathetic character in the piece. Speaking of the marketing and trailers, many of her best moments are show in those trailers, making her performance a bit low on surprises but Kidman is gifted enough to keep you interested in the character. Matthew Goode is the standout actor of the film. As the creepy and murderous Uncle Charlie, he gets to just tear into the role. You can always tell when an actor is having fun with roles they are playing and Goode really tears into the role with aplomb. It was amazing watching him vacillate between creepy, seductive, playful and hurt, often times in one single scene. Mia Wasikowska doesn’t get many explosive moments but she mines the character’s burgeoning sexuality and dark desires for gold. However, her brooding get very tiring and the script doesn’t help rescue her from the repetitiveness of that.

Wentworth Miller’s script is about 80% wonderful and 20% huh. He manages to weave in some complex and disturbing themes, including but not limited to: incest, murder, psychological disorders, jealousy, with ease. There are so many OMG-worthy moments and the atmosphere he creates through language and situations is striking. The monologues that he wrote for Kidman near the end of the film a just as powerful as the few words of dialog Mia speaks to her classmates. However, there’s something about the plot that at the end left me a bit wanting. I’m not really sure what we were supposed to think of the character arcs, especially Wasikowksa’s character. I am a bit confused with where the story leaves off and not in the “I want to know what happens next!” way. There are many however that will find this to the film’s asset but it left me cold.

Stoker will be released on March 1.