3.5 stars
The only link between vampires and this psycho-sexual thriller is found in the title – presumably used to mainline this film with a hit of gothic horror. It works, for Korean director Chan-wook Park’s first English language film lives up to sinister expectation. It is a striking debut that will find favour with fans of the aesthetic, the emotionally grotesque and Mr Park’s challenging body of work. Let’s just say, Stoker has a nasty bite.

You know ominous things are afoot when on the same day India’s (Mia Wasikowska) father dies in a car accident, her eighteenth birthday, the girl’s impossibly serene Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) is spotted loitering at the edge of the funeral. Exploiting emotional distress, he inveigles his way into the family despite India’s initial resistance. For while she recognises danger when she sees it, danger can be tremendously seductive. It’s what her mother (Nicole Kidman) desires, and what Aunt Gwen (Jackie Weaver) fears.

Screenwriter Wentworth Miller is better known as an actor, especially for his Globe nominated performance in the Fox series Prison Break. Clearly he has many talents, among them the capacity to write tight, chilling drama which Park has exploited with some success. He has crafted a stunningly attractive film with stylised precision that is a perfect match for the sensuous material, there’s barely a frame that doesn’t ache with animal beauty. A transition from combed hair to a grassy field is sublime.

Where Stoker becomes somewhat unglued is in Miller’s intentionally overheated ending. As the story builds, and the family’s psychological and emotional imbalance revealed, he takes India (and us with her) over a cliff of reason. While it doesn’t undo the story entirely, it robs the film of much good will generated in the first half where Park’s exacting camera builds an incredible tension between his characters. Heightened audio and visual treatments add tremendously to the film: parallel cues like closing pianos and opening freezers punctuate the exaggerated erotic tone. The sound of boiled egg is particularly resonant.

It all adds to the innate gothic creepiness which makes Stoker very appealing – the hi-gloss good looks of Kidman, Wasikowska and Goode in particular strike an unsettling chill as they fight to outwit and outperform one other. And as it becomes increasingly unclear whether Charlie’s actions have awoken a heroine or stirred a demon, the question remains: who will crack first?


Previewed at Events Cinemas, George St Sydney, on 13 August 2013



Mia Wasikowska
Matthew Goode
Nicole Kidman
Jackie Weaver

Chan-wook Park

Wentworth Miller



99 minutes

August 29, 2013
Stoker (2013) on IMDb
Stacks Image 56