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Film Review: 'Stoker' is ambiguous, stylish, weird

March 08, 2013|By Andy Klein
  • Mia Wasikowska as "India," Nicole Kidman as "Evie," and Matthew Goode as "Uncle Charlie," star in the movie 'Stoker.'
Mia Wasikowska as "India," Nicole Kidman… (Courtesy of Fox-Searchlight…)

"Stoker" is utterly fascinating -- about what we'd expect from the American debut of Korean director Park Chan-wook, whose 2003 "Oldboy" was one of the most extraordinary films of the millennium so far. Even those who found the subject and gore of “Oldboy” objectionable had to give Park credit for its style. The same judgment applies to both “Lady Vengeance” and “Thirst,” his two subsequent films to be released in the U.S. At the same time, “Stoker” is utterly confounding and arguably ridiculous.

The name “Stoker” suggests a vampire film, which “Stoker” is not — I think. There are hints — but then there aren't. In fact, “Stoker” hints at many, many things that never actually become clear.

On the day India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) turns 18, her father (Dermot Mulroney) dies in a gruesome car crash. Charlie Stoker (Matthew Goode) — her father's long-estranged brother, hence the uncle she's never heard about — turns up at the funeral reception. Amazingly, almost no one — including India's mom, Evie (Nicole Kidman) — knows about him, and the few that do seem alarmed by his presence. They also start to disappear. In no time, Charlie is coming on to sister-in-law Evie, who falls for it because, frankly, she's a dimwit.

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Charlie radiates weirdness, which scares India and flies right over Evie's head. We quickly learn that there is some unspoken bond between India and her newfound uncle. Part of that is that India herself radiates weirdness; in school, she has long been mocked as the strange, antisocial smart girl. It's not just that she has no friends and has never dated, or that she won't let anyone so much as touch her; she seems incapable of simple eye contact. Even Evie, who is vaguely jealous of her daughter's extreme closeness to their recently departed husband/dad, knows her daughter is, well, odd.

Hitchcock fans will already be noticing how much the story sounds like “Shadow of a Doubt,” the 1943 thriller that the master himself counted among his best. At a minimum, it's a conscious homage, or a variation, or a pastiche. At a maximum, it's a loose, uncredited remake — a view that I'm leaning toward. There are also at least two visual references to “Psycho,” as well as to some other Hitchcock films.

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