Screens

Movie review: Stoker

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Mia Wasikowska in Stoker
  • Mia Wasikowska in Stoker

Are you in the mood for weird? Stoker, the first English-language film from Oldboy director Park Chan-wook, works mightily on establishing a weird, creepy atmosphere and making it the main attraction. Can a memorable movie be made with Hitchcockian overtones but without the mesmerizing characters and intricate plotlines one associates with films of the genre? The answer is no, but Stoker offers rewards as a tone piece, and images from the production stick with you even if the film as a whole does not.

Let's address the title first. Stoker is intended to invoke the separateness of the characters in Bram Stoker's classic novel, Dracula. The movie has nothing to do with vampires or Bram Stoker, so there you go. There is a gloomy house, however, and the film has everything to do with what such places conjure up.
Wentworth Miller, who starred in the TV series Prison Break as the hero with the map hidden in the elaborate tattoos on his torso, wrote the screenplay, which goes like this: A dark cloud hovers over the Stoker home following the death of husband and father Richard (Dermot Mulroney, barely in the movie). Richard died under mysterious circumstances, a fact helpfully noted by the minister at the funeral.

Uncle Charlie, possessed with good looks and an otherworldly smile, and played cryptically by Matthew Goode, attends the funeral and stirs everything up. Incidentally, if the name Charlie reminds you of the stranger of the same moniker played by Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt, give yourself a pat on the back, you big ole movie buff.

Charlie's presence makes the immediate family quite antsy. The widow Evelyn, played by Nicole Kidman with the arch iciness of the wacky momma crafted by Genevieve Bujold in The House of Yes (if you were reminded of that film on your own, give yourself a gold star and consider becoming a movie reviewer), is excited but agitated - why did he stay away so long and why has he reentered her life now?

Even more shaken is Evelyn's daughter India, played by Mia Wasikowska as a hybrid of the girl from Beetlejuice and Wednesday from The Addams Family. She didn't even know she had an uncle, and oh my, such a handsome and disturbing one at that (no matter where you stand in the room, his eyes seem to be looking at you).

I can't tell you more than that about the story, partially to avoid spoilers, but mostly because there isn't much more to tell. The three principal characters circle each other like sharks. The director and screenwriter have them do all manner of unhealthy things. Some of the squirm-inducing bits fail, like the cheesy computer-generated spider headed ... er, for the private beach. Others succeed, like the piano duet/Twister match between Charlie and India, and the trip to the basement to get ice cream which takes a tortuously long time before it reaches its frozen money shot. Other characters come and go, including Silver Linings Playbook's Jacki Weaver, but no matter. Stoker is about the creepy games between three people in a creepy house. Hope you're in the mood for a smorgasbord of atmosphere.

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