Even from the title, there is an obvious gothic reference and these continue throughout South Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s first move in English speaking cinema with ‘Stoker’, a coming-of-age psychological thriller. Starring Mia Wasikowska as India Stoker, a misfit teenager, coming to terms with losing her father, whilst struggling to connect with her manipulative mother, immaculately played by Nicole Kidman. Once the mysterious uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode) arrives on the scene at his brother’s funeral, and then moves into the family home, the family dynamic gradually falls apart, descending to darkness.
‘Stoker’ is a film laced in style, from the weaving typography in the opening titles to the inverted closing credits, it is always visually exciting, not afraid of showing it’s roots and influences, mostly notably crossing it’s Asian symbolism with Hitchcock cinematography. Every frame is so sweet and sickly, looking as though as it’s been dipped in black treacle, yet maintaining class; pushing the boundaries without overdoing it. The script is strangely penned by Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller, the dialogue unfortunately doesn’t compliment the visuals as well as it should, the delivery often more interesting than the language, this being one of the few flaws. The plot ticks along like a teasing ghost train, slowly alluring in the beginning before a few haunting twists and eerie turns, with a splatter of fake blood at the end, leaving passengers immediately wanting a second ride.
Mia Wasikowska proves her worth in a lead role and Nicole Kidman is equally compelling in their messed up mother-daughter relationship, which plays like a warped Tim Burton version of The Gilmore Girls, replacing the bouncy conversation with sexual frustration, their communication stilted until one horrifically captivating scene. Matthew Goode is creepily flawless as the villain, giving a chilling performance leaving him tipped to take on the controlling role of Mr Grey in the film adaptation of the 50 Shades trilogy. The only setback in casting being Jacki Weaver, who is terribly underused. After playing evil so brilliantly in Australian gangland flick Animal Kingdom, I was glad to see her name in the supporting cast but she is so anonymous, sadly not allowed the screen time she deserved.
This perverse fairy-tale is very ambitious, so unique that it’s difficult to categorise it’s genre, it stands alone as a creative masterpiece with performances to boot. Criticised with ‘style over substance’ claims, I feel the concept, despite lacking in originality, is nearly strong enough to fight it out with the overpowering imagery. The aesthetic presence admittedly outweighs the narrative in the end, but it does it so beautifully, with scenes that will stay with you long after leaving the cinema that I could very happily watch over and over again.