Sunday, December 1, 2013

Family Secrets & Lies Surface in "Stoker"

The title family in the movie Stoker (2013) gives new meaning to the word dysfunctional. When her beloved father dies in an accident on her 18th birthday, India Stoker is distraught. Tensions grow between India and her emotionally distant mother, Evelyn. They are both surprised when her Uncle Charlie (who India didn’t know existed) comes to pay his respects. Charlie is handsome, good-looking and intelligent. But India is suspicious of him and the true reason for his visit. Charlie stays around after the funeral, and sets his sights on Evelyn. When India sees Charlie arguing with their housekeeper, who later disappears, it’s only the beginning of a mysterious & twisted series of events.

As Charlie & Evelyn grow closer, India becomes interested in Whip, a student at her school. Another relative visits, and tries to warn the women about Charlie, with tragic results. Things aren’t what they seem for any of these characters. Charlie’s motives are far more devious than they first appear, and the complex India may have some secrets of her own. The jumping off point for this intriguing film is the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Shadow of A Doubt (1943). In that tale, Joseph Cotten starred as another Uncle Charlie, who visits his family, and whose easygoing demeanor hides a dark truth. In fact this story’s Charlie is named in homage to Cotten’s character in the Hitchcock film. There’s also more than a touch of the movie The Bad Seed (1956) here as well.

Mia Wasikowska (who played the title role 2010’s Alice in Wonderland) is very good as India, finding the right balance between innocence & a growing sense of her own sensuality. Matthew Goode is excellent as the smooth talking, devious Charlie. And Nicole Kidman is very good as Evelyn, who is initially drawn in by Charlie’s charming ways, with terrifying results. The film is visually striking, with some startling images of both beauty and horror, thanks to the fine work of cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon. The evocative score is by Clint Mansell, and there’s a great choice of songs used in the background of a couple of key scenes. The screenplay is by actor Wentworth Miller, who starred in the TV series Prison Break, and the film marks the American debut of Korean director Park Chan-wook, best known for The Vengeance Trilogy.

To say much more about the story would give away its twists and turns; this is a fascinating psychological thriller. If there’s any problem with the the movie, it’s that you may find it a little hard to sympathize with any of the characters, but that’s a minor quibble with this eerie, unusual film. If you’re a fan of the TV series Bates Motel, American Horror Story or Twin Peaks, you’ll likely enjoy this offbeat tale. Stoker is available on Blu-ray, DVD and for digital download. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer:

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