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When absentee uncle Charlie Stoker (Matthew Goode) mysteriously returns in the wake of his brother's death, his niece India (Mia Wasikowska) finds herself oddly drawn to him despite the fact he quickly strikes up a relationship with her widowed mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). English language drama from director Chan-wook Park.
A film poised on a knife edge, Stoker is only ever moments away from being trite, laughable, or still worse, coming on like a Tim Burton disciple just saw their first Hitchcock and decided to make an on-the-nose tribute. And yet it is none of these things, but rather a compelling Grimm fairytale set in the social milieu of the sorts of people whose houses have pools and private tennis courts and who summer in the Hamptons. Rich people, in other words, but of a certain stripe: their preppy, countrified Waspishness is so ingrained that India (an excellent Mia Wasikowska), who is not really so very unusual a girl at the start of the film, stands out like an ink blot on a crisp linen handkerchief.
Certainly India’s recently bereaved mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), is perplexed by her attitude - at least, she is when she finds the time to be: she’s mostly too busy flirting with Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) to notice India’s ennui. This is a wonderfully slippery performance from Kidman, at different moments evoking different roles from her past (perhaps incredibly, there are shades of her characters in To Die For, Eyes Wide Shut, Birth and even The Golden Compass all in the mix). The past is important in Stoker, and Goode is fantastic in the role of somebody whose agenda and history unfolds with predestined languor - he may act as a protector to India, yet we can tell from the get-go that this guardian angel has been sent straight from hell.
Fans of this director’s previous films may be expecting ultraviolent set-pieces and live octopus ingestion, or similar. Despite its 18 certificate (granted at least in part because of a masturbation scene intercut with images of sexualised violence), Stoker’s main charm is in its drip-feed eeriness, with Chan-wook Park’s sly direction spinning an oddball script from Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller into cinematic silk.
Repulsion meets Shadow Of A Doubt and enacts a tweaked Electra complex in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. Sexy, perverse and memorable, Stoker lingers in the imagination like an enjoyable hangover.
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