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Review: Stoker (2013)

Stoker (2013)

Directed by: Chan-wook Park

Premise: When a young woman’s (Mia Wasikowska) father dies, her mysterious uncle (Matthew Goode) comes to live with her and her mother (Nicole Kidman).

What Works: Stoker is an exceptionally creepy tale of murder and madness. The picture represents a fusion of the styles of classic thrillers like Psycho and Night of the Hunter with more recent pictures like The Silence of the Lambs and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The combination is very successful and the movie benefits from the structure of classic Hollywood studio filmmaking while taking advantage of the greater latitude available to contemporary filmmakers. Stoker is a movie about madness and it mixes in all sorts of taboos but does so in a very thoughtful and crafty way. The lead characters of this movie are fascinating people and the sexual tension of the family is unsettling but also credible. At the center of Stoker is a trio of terrific performances. Mia Wasikowska plays the lead as the teenage daughter. Wasikowska is very good here; this may be her best performance so far. The role requires her to go out on a limb and the actress does that, pushing into some very difficult areas. Her character is coming of age and transitioning from a girl and into a woman and the way her development integrates into the mystery plotline and the rest of the fabric of the story gives the movie an emotional punch. Matthew Goode is cast as the mysterious uncle and Goode has a uniquely challenging role. It would be easy to overplay the creepiness of the character but Goode’s performance is extremely well controlled and comparable to Anthony Perkins in the original Psycho. He’s is threatening without chewing the scenery and he manages to be disarmingly charming, which makes the violence all the more disturbing. Rounding out the main cast is Nicole Kidman as the mother. Like her costars, Kidman’s role has some challenging aspects to it. The horrors that her character copes with require the actress to push into some emotionally tough places and to her credit Kidman goes there convincingly. With these performances driving the picture, Stoker is an audacious piece of work. Director Chan-wook Park proves himself to be a very capable craftsman and Stoker has a mischievous quality to it that is reminiscent of the work of filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and Lars von Trier. This is a movie in which the filmmakers demonstrate a willingness to go places and do things that are unexpected. Like the very situation it depicts, there is an underlying insane, violent, and sexual energy to this movie and that is what makes it so thrilling. The film is also very tightly written and expertly paced. There are a lot of characters and subplots and the way the filmmakers weave them together is very impressive.

What Doesn’t: Stoker is in many ways an unpleasant movie. The picture does not appeal to conservative moral tastes but it is also a picture that defies more liberal sensibilities about portrayals of sexuality and violence. That renegade quality of the movie is very much at the heart of what makes this such a great picture but it is bound to upset some viewers. If any element of Stoker is up for criticism it is the ending. It can be argued that the conclusion of Stoker is arbitrary or that the movie cops out. Careful viewing reveals that this is not the case but nevertheless the ending is so unexpected that it is jarring.

DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, image gallery, trailers, and TV spots.

Bottom Line: Stoker is a terrifically made movie. Because it trends on so many taboos and is so unconventional its potential audience may be limited. But its strangeness is exactly what makes it special and Stoker is one of the best thrillers of the past few years.

Episode: #455 (September 8, 2013)