Korean director Park Chan-wook, whose releases include Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, makes his English-language debut with Stoker, an arresting psychological thriller starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman, and written by Wentworth Miller.
Thanks to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the name “Stoker” has a long-running connection to a particular type of violence: brutal and romantic. That type of violence fits with what’s portrayed in Stoker, the story of India Stoker (Wasikowska), whose father died under mysterious circumstances. When India’s uncle, Charlie (Goode), ends up moving in with India and her mother, Evelyn (Kidman), he brings with him a wave of violence that awakens India emotionally—and sexually.
If that sounds at least a little incestuous, you’re correct. Park certainly isn’t shy about using incest in his films (Oldboy in particular uses this to a devastating end), and that disturbing aspect works well at establishing a genuinely creepy psychological thriller, even more than the bursts of violence that progressively dominate the film.
The story would falter, though, without the right cast, and the three leads are perfect for their roles. Wasikowska plays the socially awkward India with just the right amount of awkwardness, with her emotional and sexual awakening coming in appropriately stilted form. Goode’s performance as Charlie emanates creepiness from his first appearance, regardless of the scene—it’s effective at showing the amount of dread he causes in the characters who aren’t India and Evelyn. And as Evelyn, Kidman gives one of her best performances in years, playing a woman yearning for excitement in her life that she believes Charlie can provide.
Stoker is most definitely not a film for all audiences. For fans of mind-bending psychological thrillers, though, Stoker is one of the best offerings in the genre to come around in recent years, and is well worth watching.