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Review: Stoker

Fox Searchlight: Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska in "StokerIn actuality, we all have things stored away in the histories of our families that we don’t know about and/or are never supposed to discover. Whether any of it is good, bad or somewhere in between is determined by one’s own perception of morality. The way each individual comprehends these ethics of life can and probably will dictate the path that is taken when all is said and done. As seen in Stoker, some of our views that we have on morals are learned, but sometimes, it’s just simply in the genes.

The film follows India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), an awkward only child who just lost her father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) in an auto accident. Before his death, the young woman had a very close relationship with her father that couldn’t be matched by any of the others in her life. He taught her everything she knows and was truly her best friend. As a matter of fact, he was her only friend and it looks as if that’s exactly how she wanted it. Not even her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) is really that close to her in any sense.

The nicest way to describe the relationship between Evelyn and her teenage daughter India would be to say that it’s  distant. Her mother tries to communicate and bond with her, but it just doesn’t work on any level. Maybe it’s because India doesn’t like her or maybe it’s because her mother has her own issues with emotional instability. Regardless of the reasoning behind the clear separation between the two, it doesn’t appear like it will get any better.

Since the passing of Richard Stoker, mother and daughter have continued living with one another, but they’re about to receive a visitor that they didn’t expect. That’s due to the fact that Charlie (Matthew Goode), Richard’s younger brother comes to town in time for the funeral and decides to give up his busy schedule and stay with them for a little while. Evelyn knows very little about him, while India didn’t even know that he existed in the first place.

He’s welcomed with open arms by his brother’s wife who’s seeking comfort and the type of human connection that her daughter has no desire to give, but he’s met with resistance from the niece that he’s never met. She’s like that with everyone, but in this instance, her Uncle Charlie comes off as somewhat mysterious to her. She’s not afraid of him or intimidated by him. She just doesn’t know what to make of him.

As he begins to make his presence felt around her part of the family, India does begin to wonder what his motives might actually be and she becomes infatuated with finding out more about him with each passing moment he stays around. As time goes by she may get the answers that she’s looking for due to her uncanny ability to hear things that others can not, but she may not like them too much. Then again, the intrigue that comes with the potential discoveries might have the potential to show her a world that she’s never been a part of.

As a viewer of Stoker, you’ll notice that the film is built with India as the central character. Right away, you’ll witness her odd personality and much of what it entails due to the fact that the audience is not seeing the film through her eyes, it’s more like they’re seeing everything through her mind. Like her, Stoker as a whole is a film that’s quiet, distant and eccentric in its tone, pace and style. From a personal standpoint, these qualities can make for compelling work in film when done correctly and it’s certainly a positive attribute here.

There’s also a strong element of artistry that director Park Chan-Wook appears to be obsessed with throughout the entire movie. Much of these artistic segments of the film can be directly connected to the eccentric piece of the Stoker puzzle. It adds a certain unusual flare to what’s going on and once again, it fits the personality of Mia Wasikowska’s India Stoker.

Another aspect that helps Stoker along the way is the acting that assists in creating the quirkiness that the director is looking for. Many of the characters are very animated and bring a respectable amount of energy to the overall film. I don’t know if you’ll find too many people in the real world who behave like these people, but they’re made consistently lively and also have the potential to keep your attention through most if not all of what’s taking place.

While the acting, tone and artistic approach are fine, I think the only thing that really hurts the film is its lack of a strong enough story. You get a sense of what’s going on to an extent, but you don’t really get any of the actual plot or why any of this is actually happening until Stoker is nearing its conclusion. Personally, I would have liked to have seen a few more clues or hints that might allow the audience to at least guess why some of this is taking place, but we never really get that. Close to the end, we essentially get one scene that completely explains everything and that’s about it.

A script that contains more intelligence would have allowed Stoker to be a more deliberate and magnetic film that could have helped the provocative characters paint a stronger overall picture. That misfire on behalf of scriptwriter Wentworth Miller restricts the movie from being all that it should have been. The idea behind Stoker is nice, but the execution is what I would consider to be below par more than anything. Because of this, the movie is nomadically meandering around before we get to know what’s going on. It’s like watching a kooky vagabond with no direction.

As I’ve illustrated in this review, There are things to like about Stoker, but there are one or two large mishaps that don’t allow it to reach its full potential. A stronger story that lets it viewers join in on the mystery that’s in front of them would have greatly improved what’s on the screen. Since it lacks this key component, Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker isn’t the thought-provoking and mentally stimulating form entertainment that it wants to be.

Score: 2.5/5

Rating: R

Director: Park Chan-Wook

Mia Wasikowska
Matthew Goode
Dermot Mulroney
Jacki Weaver
Nicole Kidman
Phyllis Somerville
Alden Ehrenreich
Lucas Till
Ralph Brown
Judith Godreche

Film Length: 92 minutes

Release Date: March 1, 2013

Distributor: Fox Searchlight

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