Stoker // Sydney Film Festival 2013

Directed by Park Chan-Wook
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Jacki Weaver and Matthew Goode

This review contains spoilers

Let's begin at the end. We see the result of everything that happens during the middle portion of the film which proves to be the least interesting part of the film. What is interesting is seeing how it all begins and how it all ends and where this could lead.
The film's closing scene shows India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) shooting down a cop who earlier in the film hinted at suspicions towards the Stoker family regarding a recent murder of a high school kid. What is incredible is how Wasikowska portrays her inner thoughts and emotions: she barely does, or it shows a strange mixture of feelings that lets us glimpse the chaos inside her mind.

Her face has this beautiful ambiguity. It reveals a suggestion of what could be going on inside India's head. I don't know for sure if this would be the last time she kills. I don't know for sure if she killed the cop to protect herself and her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) or if she's going to end up following the footsteps of her psychopath Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). I don't know if what I see in her face is anger, detachment or guilt. I wanted to see what happens to her after the movie ended. I think that could warrant another movie because there's so much of her character that was still left unexplored. I feel like the film was so much about 'this is how it began' rather than 'this is how she is now'. Granted, it is a coming-of-age story but I was more interested to see an examination of her as an adult. It felt like the entire movie was an extended flashback without actually returning to the present. I think it's to Wasikowska's credit that her performance would incite this kind of wanting.

It seems in all of the performances there is this recurring sense of ambiguity and simultaneity. Uncle Charlie is simultaneously charming and creepy and I'm not sure whether Evelyn is terrifying or funny. Nicole Kidman's death stares caused some nervous laughter. Unfortunately her character didn't have much to do in the film and I would have loved to have seen more moments between her and India. 

In terms of the way the film is presented, the way the director transitions from one shot to the next is visually striking. At first it was distracting but it eventually melded perfectly into the way the film flowed. It made sense as it became part of the visual language and mood of the film. There was a particularly beautiful transition from Nicole Kidman's hair to grass. In fact seeing standard transitions in other films afterwards, I felt a yearning for Chan-Wook's imaginative visual style.

It wasn't just the visuals that struck me, the sound design was impeccable as well. Every time Uncle Charlie removes his belt (his weapon of choice) you can hear the most minute sound between the leather and the fabric. It adds to the hyperreal nature of the film. Like your senses have been enhanced and you're hovering a little bit above reality. 

Stoker has shades of Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived In The Castle and Brian De Palma's Carrie. I was half expecting India to poison everybody with arsenic during dinner or cause Uncle Charlie to fly across the beautifully decorated set with telekinesis. It's Gothic and haunting but nicely punctuated with some dark humour, delivered by an outstanding cast. 

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