A curious, derivative blend, Stoker (2013) is a visually striking tale of psychological horror that doesn’t break any new ground, but tells a polished and engaging story. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is a teenage misanthrope whose life is turned upside down when her father dies in a tragic accident. She spends the aftermath in a remote country mansion with her alcoholic mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), their mourning complicated by the return of a long lost uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode). India has never heard of uncle Charlie, and she’s immediately suspicious — especially when Charlie gets a little too close to Evelyn. As Charlie’s stay continues, India slowly peels away the mystery of his past, and how it ties into her life.
Directed by Chan-wook Park of Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance fame, Stoker has a distinctive cinematic style that I found eye-catching without being distracting. As usual with this kind of thing, the set-up is better than the payoff; the pace feels glacial in the first act, but this actually contributes to its slow-building puzzle atmosphere. As the pieces gradually fill in, the picture comes together; I found it structurally neat, although in the end it does over-explicate. Until then, though, it keeps you guessing, the disorientation cleverly enhanced by its loaded title and derivative feel. In the end, a well crafted Southern Gothic mashup of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and De Palma’s Carrie, with some of its own unique flavors stirred into the pot. Not bad at all, for its type.