For his big Hollywood debut, Korean director Park Chan Wook, whose credits include the highly acclaimed thriller Oldboy, wasted no time in using his skills to breathe life into the psychological thriller Stoker, a screenplay that was written by actor Wentworth Miller, better known for his role as Michael Scofield in the TV hit series Prison Break — his first venture into writing and producing. With a budget of only $12 million, the shooting of the film was completed in only 40 days.
India (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) is an eighteen year old introvert who shares a close relationship with her father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) . But on her 18th birthday, tragedy strikes as her father figures in a freak accident and she is left in the care of her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). At the funeral, India meets her uncle Charlie for the first time, and things begin to change in the Stoker household with his extended stay. Try as she might to avoid it, she becomes uncontrollably fascinated and seduced by her mysterious relative and he awakens something raw and feral in her that haunts and disturbs her, even as she comes to terms with the loss of the person she loves most in the world.
Stoker is a decent psychological thriller, in my opinion, but it took awhile before the film finally moved forward. The story only progressed midway into the film with the beginning part mostly filled with stylish shots and eerie silence that lends sort of a surreal feel to the film. However, if audiences could hold out from sleep for that long, the gradual revelations are actually worth the watch.
Matthew Goode played an effective Charlie because he looked the part. He embodied it. He was handsome, debonair, and he had this diabolical knowing grin that did not quite reach his eyes that indicated that something was afoot. This was a far cry from his secret agent persona in Chasing Liberty and I think that this is a good thing because he is showing that he is not a one-trick pony.
I think Mia Wasikowska, while she seemed weird enough, looked too old to be playing a teenager. There were actually moments that she looked older than Nicole Kidman, who played her mother. Aside from this small complaint, Mia did justice to her role. She deserves high praise for her performance. Kidman’s role in this movie was pure support. It was really Mia and Matthew’s movie. There were only a few key characters in the movie, but somehow, this made the film stronger because the filmmakers were able to concentrate in establishing the characters, as well as exploring their backgrounds to justify their actions. This was a case of less is more, indeed.
I liked that the movie had a sinister feel and an underlying sense of evil in its approach. It did not always make sense but I appreciated the effort. The cinematography was good, as well as the stylistic treatment to the movie similar to The Others and The Woman in Black. The silence that prevailed in most parts of the movie added to the creep factor that held audiences captivated and this was a true credit to the filmmakers.
All in all, Stoker was well executed thriller. It took a while for it to tell the story, but in the end, it got there. There may have been high points and low points to the movie, but this could be worked out in future films to be written by neophyte Miller and directed by Hollywood newcomer Park. As an opening salvo, Stoker shows great promise. And this may well be the break that opens doors for Miller and Park as filmmakers in Tinseltown.