Sometimes a mediocre script can be elevated by great casting and become an interesting movie. The new film, “Stoker,” directed by Chan-wook Park, is one such film — and it’s spooky good.
The opening scene is curious. Two abandoned vehicles are parked on a remote road. One is a squad car with its lights still flashing. There’s a voice-over by the main character, India (Mia Wasikowska), who’s explaining how she’s no ordinary girl, which we soon learn is an understatement of unparalleled proportions. Suddenly, we see a brilliantly lit birthday cake being slowly covered by a glass hood, extinguishing the candles as ominous smoke fills the enclosure.
It’s India’s 18th birthday and her beloved father has met a tragic death. At his wake, a handsome stranger (Matthew Goode) stands off in the distance. It seems that he’s India’s uncle, Charlie, whose existence is a shocker to the grief-stricken adolescent. Equally disturbing is her not-so-beloved mother, Evelyn’s (Nicole Kidman) shameless attraction to him. Charlie moves in.
But Charlie takes more of an interest in India than Evelyn. At first, India rebuffs his advances, but soon she’s lured into his web just as people close to her begin disappearing. Reality becomes blurred to her and the audience. There’s definitely something unholy unraveling, as India and Charlie form ties that bond. Inappropriate relationships abound in this chilling thriller.
Park (“Oldboy”) pays homage to scores of films in “Stoker,” beginning with the title, as in Bram, as in “Dracula.” Nods to such films as Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt,” Evan’s “Mr. Brooks,” De Palma’s “Carrie” and LeRoy’s “The Bad Seed” do not go unnoticed. He’s also to be commended for his magnificent camera work in the film. The haunting Gothic look, intense attention to detail and bloodcurdling close-ups make watching “Stoker” a visual feast.
The movie is also cast to perfection. Erotic tension oozes from the interactive performances between Kidman (sensuous beyond description), Goode (smugly charming) and Wasikowska (savagely innocent). The tumultuous trio tactically draws the audience into its den of secrets with such precision it is overwhelming.
So when a film sports a lame line such as, “Sometimes you need to do something bad to stop you from doing something worse,” get over it and move on to what it looks like and where it takes you. “Stoker” goes to the darkside, and it’s a thrilling ride.