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 teenaged 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 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’s 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.