Director Park Chan-wook presents his first English-language film and
it's also the first of the half-dozen or so features he's done to be
written by someone else. This is perhaps problem number one, and
director Park can't do anything to fix it. He can distract with slick
camera work and smooth editing, but he can't solve what's fundamentally
Mia Wasikowska plays India Stoker, a teenage girl who becomes the obsession of her uncle Charlie, played by Matthew Goode. Charlie is the younger brother of India's father. The problem is why. Why is Charlie obsessed with India? We learn that Charlie has been obsessed with India prior to the two meeting, which doesn't happen until her 18th birthday and up until then she didn't even know he existed. Both have been isolated and the chronology is never explained enough that I get how Charlie even knew that India existed.
There's even indications that Charlie fundamentally hates many of his blood relatives, so the explanation for his obsession with India is a big, gaping plot-hole into which everything falls. Director Park utilizes such skill and art that it's clear that much thought went into crafting the visuals. I would have expected the same amount of thought when it came to character motivations, but that wasn't the case.
Yet, I don't suppose many people complain about why Michael Myers is obsessed with his sister in John Carpenter's Halloween (1978). We just accept that Michael Myers is crazy. He did escape from a mental institution after all, so Michael Myers being and doing insane, murderous things is just a given that the audience either goes with or not. The same has to be said about Stoker. Either you go with Charlie's obsession or not. Still, the fact that Charlie's obsession isn't explained is a writing problem, one that I lay at the feet of screenwriter Wentworth Miller. With that, however, director Park has nonetheless put together what is arguably the most beautiful, horror film that I've probably ever seen.
What this movie tries to deconstruct is something that has been deeply explored by the TV series Dexter. Yes, it shares an interest in serial killers, and the essential question is whether a serial killer is born or created. What leads a person down that path? Is it nature or nurture? It works better in Dexter because we're allowed inside that character's head. Here, we have little to no clue what's happening inside India or Charlie's head.
Nicole Kidman plays Evelyn, India's mother and recent widow. Kidman by far gives the best performance of everyone here. It's probably because her character has the most range. She's sullen. She's sexy. She's frustrated. She's scared. She gets to be all these different emotions and she makes them all work. All of the supporting characters like Jacki Weaver who plays India's great aunt Jen or Alden Ehrenreich who plays Whip, a schoolmate, all of them give performances too, better performances than the two leads certainly. Wasikowska and Goode play stereotypical, horror film characters. There's no range to them. Wasikowska is one note. Goode is at least two notes, but his second note didn't work for me.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 39 mins.