Stoker is a film as alluring as it is disturbing. It reminds me of the time my friend was intently watching a video on youtube, only to realise it was CCTV footage of a man committing suicide in a petrol station. You’re not quite sure what you’re looking at until it’s too late. That kind of thing.
We open on the funeral of Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney) as his sullen and enigmatic daughter, India (Mia Wasikowska), endures the occasion with pointed stares and long silences. Her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), appears to relish the attention from fellow mourners – having felt a third-wheel in her own family for many years. However, it is Richard’s younger brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode), who steals the show at the funeral – charming Evelyn and the other guests, after returning from his travels abroad. After the funeral, Charlie takes a permanent residence in the family mansion, much to India’s dismay. The 19-year old can feel something isn’t right. Behind the family’s cool facade, they live their lives on the point of a needle. It is up to India to uncover the secrets her father’s death has left behind. Distance is not without reason.
Stoker is about India’s ascent into womanhood. It’s probably the most morbid coming of age story I’ve heard of. India and Charlie are predators circling Evelyn, who is too charmed by Charlie to see this. India artfully plays games with her unstable mother before dismantling her sad Stepford exterior bit-by-bit, subtly complementing the actions of her uncle and desperately trying to resist him. It’s kind of gross because of the whole incestuous undertones, but it’s kind of sexy too. That’s Stoker‘s thing. Stoker could have easily been too cringey to watch or a cliche,but the film pulls it off thanks to Wasikowska, Goode and Kidman’s precise performances. That leaves us, the audience, with a lot of creepy, threatening but sexually charged scenes. I spent a lot of Stoker worrying that a threesome might break out at any moment. Or at least the kind of threesome where one of the participants realise they just happen to be in the same bed as two other people having sex.
I enjoyed Stoker. I could see how some people might find it pretentious, but hey, maybe it appealed to that side of me. The whole thing is very stylish. I would relate it to A Single Man, if George was planning other people’s deaths instead of his own. Stoker definitely has that perfume ad aesthetic. The set designs and the costumes were timeless, but vaguely modern – enough to suspend the story in an air of mystery. And please god, reincarnate me as an attractive man so I can wear Matthew Goode’s sunglasses and drive a convertible.
Alright, I’ll get to some actual reviewing instead of gushing about this film, because it isn’t really worth gushing over. (I’m just easily impressed by beautiful, mysterious people with great style.) Stoker was a solid movie, but I think it will be easily forgotten. And I think this is due to the actual story. The acting is great, the cinematography is gorgeous and horrific all at once. (The squelch of a bloodsoaked pencil being sharpened is etched into my mind.) I guess what separates it from a great movie, for me, is that Stoker doesn’t really have a bottom line. We’ve got this teenager who is complicated and dark, trying to figure out who she is going to choose to be (it’s a little bit nature versus nurture). And she takes us on this journey with her but at the end of the film she drives into the sunset. What did we just watch? It’s a cool movie, but I was never entirely captivated by it.
I’ve decided to start rating movies out of 10. I can’t say that the system will be consistent or have any logic behind it, but it’s going to happen. So without further adieu:
Stoker (2013): 7/10