On the day of her eighteenth birthday, India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska) celebrations are indefinitely postponed when news of her father’s untimely demise reaches the family. As his body is pulled from the wreckage of a terrible car accident and quickly put to rest, India is left to deal with a growing sense of grief and act as the sole care provider for her emotionally unstable mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Trapped within the walls of their shared home, and with very few relatives or friends to confide in, the already tenuous relationship shared between mother and daughter is only stressed further when India’s charming uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode), arrives to give his condolences, but quickly begins to assume the role of India’s father. While Evelyn remains blissfully unaware of anything outside of her newfound affections, India begins to notice something much more sinister hiding behind her uncle’s polite, self-assured smile.
“Have you ever seen a photograph of yourself? Taken when you didn’t know you were being photographed?”
Borrowing heavily from Alfred Hitchcock’s film, “Shadow of a Doubt,” and many of Hitchcock’s signature practices, first time screenwriter, Wentworth Miller (“Prison Break”), and director, Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”), have collaboratively created a film that is dripping in enough style to challenge the splatters of blood that coat much of the Stokers’ life. In this english language debut, Park Chan-wook maintains full control over the most minute details in set design, editing, and framing. While the world of “Stoker” is decidedly bleak and seemingly cut off, the abundance of vibrant colours and creative shots illustrating different aspects of the actors’ expressions and movements allows for some beautiful scenery that becomes skilfully intertwined with the script’s slow descent into murder and mayhem. As the film is shot primarily from India’s introverted, quiet perspective, the visuals allow viewers to follow her along as she begins to uncover the darker aspects of her otherwise lovely, sunlit home.
“Just as a flower does not choose its colour, we are not responsible for what we have come to be.”
In an attempt to match Park Chan-wook’s visuals, Miller has produced a story that will appear immediately familiar to any fan of Hitchcock’s works. Although the story does move away from its “Shadow of a Doubt” origins and into new territory, its themes of incest, mental instability, and secret lives are far from unique. Unfortunately, with so many allusions in script and design, it’s difficult not to compare at least a little. While Miller’s script certainly falls short in this respect, it still remains fairly intriguing and puts forth enough mystery to stand on its own as a psychological thriller. While, at points, feeling criminally underused, both Goode and Kidman fill their roles well as highly influential figures in India’s life who each have their own agendas. Wasikowska, on the other hand, shines in this role as she naturally portrays India’s journey from a girl perpetually under the influence of those who don’t have her best interests, to a woman capable of making her own decisions.
With plenty of style and some interesting re-workings of Hitchcock’s cinematic practices, “Stoker” presents a fine tale of psychological horror that will keep viewers wondering until the mystery is finally solved. Although it lacks the suspense or hard-hitting twists of Hitchcock, himself, the result is satisfying.