Twitter Plot Summary: When her father dies, India Stoker discovers she has an uncle. The uncle moves in, her mother is happy… but something is not quite right.
Dracula fans, step aside, there’s not a bloodsucking vampire in sight. Written by Wentworth Miller (him off’ve Prison Break), Stoker takes place in a nondescript American town where life is sleepy and little of consequence ever happens. Oh how quickly that facade will soon fall by the wayside.
Mia Wasikowska is India Stoker, an odd girl who discovers at her father’s funeral, a man who cared for her deeply, that he had a brother who he had never mentioned before. That brother, Charles (Matthew Goode) turns up out of the blue and moves in with India and her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) for what is intended to be a short stay, but inevitably extends for longer than expected. India, not exactly a paragon of sanity herself, soon comes to realise that there may be more to her uncle than meets the eye, and quickly develops an obsession with him. He meanwhile has a target lock on Evelyn, a woman who is deeply unstable. It feels like if you were to look up the word dysfunctional in the dictionary you would see a picture of the Stokers.
Direction is provided by Chan-wook Park, the man who brought the original Oldboy to our screens back in 2003. It comes as no surprise then that, given this strange combination of cast and crew, the final output is an exercise in strangeness, an oddity that proves difficult to describe without jumping into the murky depths of spoiling the plot or giving it the entirely insufficient label as being a “family drama”.
Park has a defiantly non-Hollywood approach to directing, creating a slightly disconcerting tone throughout and creating the impression that everything in this world is not quite as it seems. This may in part be due to him not speaking English, in effect separating him from the actors and their performances, subtly enhancing that sense of unspoken disquiet. This is further enhanced by muted colour palettes, mostly blacks enhanced with the odd dash of claret.
On that note, Matthew Goode is unsettling thanks to his quiet intensity. His words and his smile may suggest that he’s being friendly, but his eyes are cold as steel and say he’s anything but friendly. Think of him as Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, constantly looking to exploit any perceived weakness. Wasikowska meanwhile is excellent at portraying damaged characters, and India is no different from her usual output. She is a confused youngster, not entirely sure what she wants from life, be it inappropriate relationships or inappropriate thoughts of a more sinister kind. Then of course there is Nicole Kidman, always reliable and dependable when your production needs big name star power. Evelyn is needy and shallow, liable to having an emotional breakdown at any given moment. Thank goodness for Charles’ arrival, it seems.
It’s a wholeheartedly odd take on family relationships, an odd story presented in an odd fashion. It proves to be a compelling story mostly because it’s so unusual, an off-centre take on life and fractured psyches. To psycho-analyse the characters would potentially take a very long time, and it’s this alongside the oddness that carries it to a pleasing finale.