Written by Guest Contributor: Jefferey Pinkos India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) spends her birthday shifting uncomfortably at the wake of father Richard (Dermot Mulroney), avoiding the gaze of a stranger who bears a mighty resemblance to the dearly departed, as he chats with the widow Evie (Nicole Kidman). Why, little India, it’s your Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). The reason you’ve never met him is because he’s spent years and years globetrotting, going from one exotic climate to another, yeah, yeah, that’s the ticket. And since your father just passed, and this giant ass home feels so empty without him, he will just have to stay here, to help around the house, to less than subtly ingratiate himself into the family dynamic while doing some hardcore perving on you and your mother. One mystery leads to another with Uncle Charlie, and unraveling him means unraveling yourself.
South Korean director Park Chan-wook has a well-documented history with violence. His oeuvre is filled with viciousness and obsession — including his masterstroke Oldboy. In this, his English language debut, he crafts a well groomed vision. Removed from the plot of familial intrigue, incestuous rumination, death and deception, it looks like an H&M catalogue — and depending on how you feel about those is how you’ll feel about the fashionable textures and palette Chan-wook offers here.
Stoker is a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, in which a young woman Charlie suspects her uncle, also called Charlie, of criminal activity. Here suspicion and intrigue gives way to reaction. India (okay, I’ll finally address my feelings toward her name: it’s fucking stupid) discovers early on that Charlie is up to no good, trying to make trouble in the neighborhood. It’s now a matter of how she feels about and addressing those feelings. Does it horrify her? Yes. Does it excite her? Yes. How do you reconcile feeling both desire and repulsion at once? Where’s the demarcation? Chan-wook is so devoted to delving into the theme of introspective discovery that he places the entirety of Stoker onto her discovering her taste for destruction and where it ends.
For any Hannibal fans out there, this is up your alley. India’s relationship with Stoker’s is reminiscent of Abigail Hobbs’s relationship with Hannibal Lecter’s in the first season. Hannibal and Richard both have agendas with their young, female companions — educating her in the path of sociopathic bonding, becoming their respective doting students’ teacher / father / everything else. It’s a relationship of egoism, impressing my personality onto someone else. It helps that Abigail and India are weird to begin with. It’s also reminiscent of Hannibal with a specific vision of violence, rising it to art, or at the very least intermingling aesthetics with repulsion to engage a deeper thematic meaning. And (finally cutting to the quick) both are ponderously dull and self-interested. I am not one for dryness, that much I know. I like Sam Fuller movies, where stories and emotions are big. I find little to cling on to here. Do I care about the intricacies their relationships? It’s all artifice, shallower than it portends. There’s no struggle. Go watch Martha Marcy May Marlene for a story of destruction, control, fear, complicity, and delivered by an engaged, interesting cast.
Director: Park Chan-wook Writer: Wentworth Miller Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures Run Time: 99 min Format: Blu-Ray/DVD