This is the kind of movie that has you thinking of Hitchcock and still wondering, at the end, what happens to the characters. So it is suspenseful. But it’s also a bit pretentious and portentous. We linger a little too long on the still shots, and we play a little too much with the voiceovers, and the psycho-sexual fantasy sequences are well, shall we say, not for the prudish? And did we mention sudden violence?
India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska, presented unglamorously) is one of those high school loners who make good grades, but has no friends. She keeps to herself, and is the only child of a beloved father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney) and a ditzy not-so-devoted Mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). India and her father are so close that Evelyn feels left out. India and her father go bird hunting, and Richard takes all the trophies to the taxidermist, as a kind of homage to his daughter’s hunting prowess. Yes, we’ll return to that foreshadowing theme of guns and violence.
India’s world starts to cave in when her Dad is suddenly killed in a horrible car accident, and just as suddenly, her Dad’s brother, Charles (Matthew Goode), appears on the doorstep, when India didn’t even know she had an Uncle Charlie. Her Mom tries to provide some lame explanation about how he traveled all the time, but this intensifies India’s sense of distance from her Mom, and her grieving over her Dad.
Uncle Charlie seems a little creepy. India appears to be just weird and emotionally vacant. And India becomes even more confused when Mom and Uncle Charlie appear to be flirting with each other. This happens at precisely the same time as her own sexual awakening, which makes her think about the one boy in school who was nice to her, and also makes her think about….playing the piano with Uncle Charlie?
This is the first film in English for veteran Korean Director Chan-wook Park, who, it turns, out, decided to become a Director after seeing Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” So the Hitchcock homage is entirely intentional. So are the lingering visuals of flowers blowing in the wind, and long silences with atonal music playing in the background. Just so we know that we’re in for the strange and unexpected.
Well, the actors are first-rate, and there are indeed some plot surprises, but “Stoker” seems a bit too self-conscious to be considered great cinema, and it will be not mainstream enough to develop a wide audience. Just because you’re all Psycho doesn’t mean we want to watch.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas