Park Chan-wook's STOKER: Portrait of a Fractured Family
Director: Park Chan-wook
Writer: Wentworth Miller, Erin Cressida Wilson (contributing writer)
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
Website: Stoker Official Site
Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt may be the impetus for Park Chan-wook's first English-language film Stoker, but the film moves about with a dreamy fairy-tale quality that distinguishes itself from the master of suspense's classic. It's the result of Chan-wook's unique ability to imbue poetic lyricism into his stylish thrillers. Once again working with cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance), the two have crafted a stark gothic tale full of strange beauty and sudden violence.
India (Mia Wasikowska) and her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) have just lost their family chieftain Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney) to a fiery auto accident. In the midst of coming to terms with the loss of a father and husband, they are visited by his long-lost brother Charlie (Matthew Goode), an uncle India never knew existed. India is captivated by the charming renaissance man, driving further an already existing wedge between India and her mother. India's uncle soon reveals a sinister side, but India has her own darkness brewing, cultivated by the enigmatic Charlie.
Stoker is a psychological thriller with a simple premise, but one operating with spectacular character dynamics. Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) portrayal of India is a revelation. She's a young woman whose life - once enriched by her father's nurturing - is now left with a huge void. Evelyn, seduced by Charlie's eccentricities and many talents, will do anything to replace the hole in her own heart with Charlie as surrogate. Charlie is obviously a sociopath, able to inflict great pain and death with as much concern as opening a bottle of fine wine. He sees a chance to adopt his brother's flailing family as his own. Each performer rises above typical melodramatic histrionics by delivering nuanced, offbeat takes on their respective characters.
Class tension factors as a small undercurrent of Stoker. India's family appears to be the only financially stable in her community. Her time spent in activities like playing the piano or target shooting seem superfluous when contrasted with fellow blue collar, underachieving students at her school. This puts a distance between her and her classmates, and bullies taunt her as being "weird" or a "bitch". This gap allows Charlie to insinuate himself in India's life in a profound way. A pivotal scene follows India on a rendezvous with a local boy after his shift at a fast food joint. Their volatile encounter ends in bloodshed at the hands of Charlie in front of Inda, both of whom think little of offing the boy after he attacks India. India's compliance in the act - whether or not deserved by the boy - reveals that she has more in common with Charlie than could be imagined.
The final act culminates in the sort of mayhem most fans have come to expect of Chan-wook. While it may not live up to the expectations of some, it shows a director dedicated to the type of growth displayed in his last feature Thirst (2009). When most revenge thrillers are focused exclusively on the brutality, Chan-wook differentiates himself with complex emotional depth. In India, we see great potential thwarted by corruption and the influence of a terrible man. As Uncle Charlie says "she's of age", and though he never reveals what he means, the viewers knows for certain it won't be good. Perhaps the real cruelty operating here is the callous opportunism that rises from taking advantage of broken, abandoned hearts.