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Movie Review: Stoker
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Stoker PosterStoker
Director: Park Chan-wook
Screenwriter: Wentworth Miller
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Dermot Mulroney
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rated R | 99 Minutes
Release Date: March 8, 2013 (Limited)

Directed by Park Chan-wook, Stoker stars Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) as India Stoker, whose 18th birthday is turned upside down after her loving father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney), dies in a horrific car accident.

The quiet and reclusive India is left with her estranged, unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) in their secluded mansion. At Richard’s funeral, Evelyn and India are introduced to Richard’s charming, charismatic brother Charlie (Matthew Goode), who has spent his life jet-setting around the globe.

After the service, Uncle Charlie (a reference to Joseph Cotten’s character in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt) decides to stay indefinitely to help support his brother’s family, much to Evelyn’s delight and India’s displeasure.

Park Chan-wook, the South Korean director best known for his films Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, and Thirst, makes his English-language debut with Stoker, a dark, atmospheric film that feels as Hitchcockian as it does Kubrickian. There is a technical precision in Chan-wook’s movie that forces you to focus on every little detail – and the director’s signature visual style enhances the mystery and the characters caught up in it.

While Kidman is an eerie presence as Evelyn, Stoker soars on the performances of Goode (Watchmen) and Wasikowska. India’s sexual awakening is triggered by the arrival of her dashing Uncle, and scenes between the two of them are filled with incestuous undertones. These moments are indeed unsettling, but it’s not so much what we see on screen that is disturbing, but what is suggested and alluded to beneath the surface.

Adding to the tension is the strained relationship between India and her mother, who is jealous of the sudden attention her daughter is getting from Uncle Charlie – a younger, sexier version of her late husband. Kidman spends most of the film in silence, staring holes through you – but she eventually unleashes the poison-spewing ice queen within. We call this going “Full-On Kidman.” This piece of dialogue her character delivers is devastating, and reason alone to see Chan-wook’s film:

“You know I’ve often wondered why it is we have children in the first place and the conclusion I’ve come to is at some point in our lives we realize things are, they’re messed up beyond repair. So we decide to start again, wipe the slate clean, start fresh and we have children, little carbon copies we can turn to and say, ‘You will do things I cannot. You will succeed where I have failed because we want someone to get it right this time.’ But not me. Personally speaking, I cannot wait to see life tear you apart.”

Chilling. Terrifying. Stoker is the perfect marriage of sumptuous imagery, disquieting dialogue, and brilliant performances – and while it’s early still, Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut is one of the best films of 2013 – an intense exploration of the darkness inside us and the secrets we keep. Don’t miss this one, lest ye wish to suffer the wrath of Full-On Kidman!

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