Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney, Phyllis Somerville, Jackie Weaver
Running time: 98 minutes
A COMING-of-age tale from the director of Old Boy and written by the star of Prison Break sounds an odd proposition — but odd is an apt description of Stoker.
The psychological thriller was famously added to Hollywood’s Black List (the 10 best unproduced screenplays doing the rounds in a given year; in this case, 2010) before being taken on by director Park Chan-wook, marking his first English language film.
We join the Stoker family when father Richard (Mulroney) dies in a car crash, leaving behind sheltered teen India (Wasikowska) and her mother, Evelyn (Kidman).
At the funeral, India is introduced to Uncle Charlie (Goode): an enigmatic relative she never knew existed, and who stays with the grieving mother and daughter, growing ever closer to Evelyn — but setting his sights on his young niece.
So where has Charlie been until now – and just what do he and India have in common?
The Stokers are a family out of sync with the modern setting: rattling around in a sprawling mansion, India in her staid twin sets and knee-length skirts – all of which add a touch of Gothic.
Writer Wentworth Miller (proving here that he’s not just a pretty-faced actor) penned the script as a kind of horror, influenced by Gothic novels and by Hitchcock.
And Stoker delivers for the most part, ending with a bang (and a memorable last line) that will leave audiences satisfied.
The problem lies in getting there, as dialogue between the oddball family becomes wooden and allows the action to drag at times.
The cinematography is, on occasion, wonderful: from Chan-wook’s blood-splattered best to stunning shots of India surrounded by the same shoe in varying sizes (sent to her by Uncle Charlie each year).
But there are laboured moments too: far too many transitions from flowing hair to swaying grass, boulder to eyeball – all of which distract from an intriguing storyline.
Still, Stoker proved a draw at the Glasgow Film Festival, as limited marketing let very little slip about the storyline – and it’s worth an hour and a half of your time to unravel the mystery.