Stoker: Deeply Disturbing but not so Deep

The trailer for Stoker promises a sinister family drama, and that is exactly what the movie delivers.

 

The movie unfolds following the death of India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), our debatable protagonist’s father and the ensuing arrival of her mysterious and previously unknown uncle, the charming and handsome Uncle Charlie (Mathew Goode). As we begin to learn more about the true nature of Uncle Charlie, we also trace India’s expedited, chilling development from girl to woman in a matter of days and witness her and her shaky mother’s (Nicole Kidman) blossoming infatuation with their newfound relative.

 

Chan-wook Park does a magnificent job directing this eerie piece – his English language debut – creating an artful canvas of sweeping shots and minute, detailed close-ups. He accurately captures the claustrophobic, acute sensory awareness that India suffers from, forcing the audience to experience it too.

 

It helps that each of the actors delivers a brilliant performance. Wasikowska is phenomenal in her role, embodying the unusual, pained India and her subtle transformation. Kidman is perfect in her depiction of India’s unstable, lonely mother, and Goode is irresistible as the charming, handsome sociopath inspired by Hitchcock’s own Uncle Charlie from Shadow of a Doubt.

 

But the script, written, surprisingly, by Prison Break star (and Princeton graduate, no less) Wentworth Miller, leaves something wanting. While the visual and audio experience is crafted to a T, there are moments where the symbolism can feel heavy-handed. The hints dropped throughout the film can be obvious and clichéd, such as the paralleling of a murder scene with the narration of a nature documentary about a inter-family wildlife killing playing on a TV in the background. Perhaps it is precisely the high level of sophistication of the acting and direction that leaves the audience expecting something deeper and more complex. But when the movie draws to its chilling end, there remains a sense of troubling confusion.

 

Doing a little research on Stoker might shed some additional light on the broad themes of heritage, sociopathic inclinations and the Hitchcockian undertones, but truth be told, there just is isn’t enough depth to the script. Stoker can be reduced to a high level, artsy thriller with an overall aim to shock and disturb. Other details such as the anachronistic set-up of the Stoker household appear primarily unfounded, if for no other reason than to give the feeling of a 1940’s thriller. Miller naturally points out that his script had been changed several times from its original, so it might be unfair to rest the blame for its missing central core entirely on him.

 

In the end, while Stoker is a beautiful, well-crafted film with flawless acting and an intriguing plot line, it is disappointingly shallower than one might hope.

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