Stoker is the first American film from Korean director Chan-wook Park, whose Vengeance Trilogy (2002's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, 2003’s Oldboy and 2005’s Lady Vengeance) is renowned for it brutal and inventive visual style.  Stoker is a moody horror movie about a girl named India, played by Mia Wasikowska, who is left alone with her cold and frivolous mother, played by Nicole Kidman, after her father dies in an accident on the day she turns eighteen. On the day of the funeral, the brother of the deceased dad shows up.  Mathew Goode plays “Uncle Charlie,” whose name is a direct reference to the classic Alfred Hitchcock / Thornton Wilder classic Shadow of a Doubt from 1943.

The film succeeds in keeping the audience guessing as to what type of odd connection young India and her Uncle Charlie have. The film’s title, and the Shadow of a Doubt parallels, provide material for speculation, but by the time the answers finally come along they fail to deliver. The screenplay, written by Wentworth Miller, doesn’t provide enough substance for this visually busy picture to be more than an exercise in directorial style. It does touch on a few interesting themes around free will, teen angst, and destiny, but the ending of the film completely negates any meaning we could derive about these themes.  Based on everything we learn about India over the course of the movie, she seems to draw the entirely wrong conclusion at the finale.  It feels like Miller and Chan-wook Park started at the end with what they want their film to say, but presented a story that fails to line up with that resolution.

Mia Wasikowska is always dynamic on screen and it is impressive to see her playing a sullen contemporary American teenager in this film after her exceptional performance as Jane Eyre two years ago. Nicole Kidman, on the other hand, does nothing with her underwritten role as the mother; Jackie Weaver and Phyllis Somerville find more ways to shine in their all too brief roles as the other older women in India’s life.  As Uncle Charlie, Mathew Goode succeeds admirably in keeping his character interesting.  This is a pretty one-note guy for most of the movie, and Goode’s unsettling, unblinking demeanor remains intriguing for longer than it probably deserves to.

The stylish direction keeps the film from getting boring, but there is not much underneath the surface of this showy and conspicuously-directed thriller.
Directed by Chan-wook Park
Produced by Michael Costigan, Ridley Scott, and Tony Scott

Written by Wentworth Miller

With: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Peg Allen, Lauren E. Roman, Phyllis Somerville, Harmony Korine, Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich, Jacki Weaver, and Dermot Mulroney

Cinematography: Chung-hoon Chung
Editing: Nicolas De Toth
Music: Clint Mansell

Runtime: 99 min
Release Date: 28 February 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1