In the visually stunning, stunningly perverse “Stoker”, Mia Wasikowska stars as a special teenage girl who finds herself very much alone after her father’s sudden death. Trapped in a home with her needy mother (Nicole Kidman), a mysterious Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) whom she never knew existed, and an eerily enhanced sense of sound, Wasikowska’s India Stoker is forced to acclimate to a twisted new family dynamic. The film, which is the English-language debut of South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook, made its world premiere at Sundance Sunday night. And while some critics took issue with minor holes in the plot and a supporting role for Nicole Kidman that could have been made more substantial, its arresting cinematography (by Chan-wook collaborator Chung-hon Chung) compensates for any shortcomings. Full of oblique angles, a pastel palette to offset the morbid story, and creepy cutaways (one extreme close-up shows India sharpening the blood-soaked pencil she just used as a weapon), the film is always lovely to watch, even during its most disturbing sequences.
Equally lovely and disturbing is Wasikowska’s performance as an 18-year-old who finds herself inexplicably attracted to her strange uncle, despite the fact that she does not like to be touched. (Their chemistry is teased in one erotically charged piano duet that leaves her panting.) With her particular cocktail of eccentricities, horror appeal, and Sissy Spacek complexion, Wasikowska recalls another seemingly shy high-school character profiled on film: Carrie, the Stephen King heroine who wreaks havoc on her hometown. They aren’t carbon copies—India does not have telekinetic powers or a Christian-fundamentalist upbringing. But like Carrie, India has an unstable mother, is relentlessly bullied at school, and crosses that fine line between sheltered innocence and a frighteningly violent nature. She gets revenge on a few classmates, is sexually confused, lacks a father, and is a loner. India also appears in a dramatic shower scene that depicts a pivotal moment in her physical maturation. It does not involve blood or fellow classmates, but it occurs after a gruesome event and is Wasikowska’s boldest scene.
After the premiere of the film, which is full of suspenseful plot twists and red herrings, Park Chan-wook was asked about his inspirations for “Stoker”. And while he did not cite Carrie, the filmmaker did refer to another legend of the genre. Through a translator, Chan-wook explained, “There wasn’t any intention in my direction to consciously make this a Hitchcock-ian film. Rather, I wanted to get a little bit away from that and that’s why at one stage I suggested we change the name from Charlie to something else. . . . Having seen the film like this [though], not only Shadow of a Doubt [which also features an Uncle Charlie], but I must have been influenced a little bit by Psycho as well.”
Fox Searchlight has snapped up the picture, which will open in theaters in limited release this March.