Stoker Review: A Psycho-Sexual Thriller
Stoker begins with the death of Richard Stoker, husband to Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and father of India (Mia Wasikowska) on her eighteenth birthday. The Stokers aren’t exactly a normal family, and it’s not just that they’re rich and have servants that make them different. Their house seems to be in a gothic novel despite the fact that they live in modern Connecticut. There are odd touches on the mansion grounds that are reminiscent of Edward Gorey, like large round boulders that cover graves and a woven hanging swing that looks like a beehive/nest sort of thing.
India could be a refugee from the Addams Family, with her slow, measured speech pattern and taste for hunting and taxidermy. She’s the kind of girl who, instead of brushing off the spider she spies climbing up her leg, lets it crawl under her skirt and end up who knows where.
Nicole Kidman is no Morticia; she’s as normal as India is odd, though she sleeps for much of the day and may be an alcoholic. Even before dad’s death, this was a troubled family; India is more attached to Mrs. McGarrick, the head servant, than she is to her mom, though she was quite close to dad, something Evelyn obviously envies.
Almost immediately after Ricahrd’s death, we meet Uncle Charlie, who Evelyn doesn’t ever remember hearing about. He moves in and proves to be the perfect balm for Evelyn’s loneliness. She practically throws herself at him, while India is cooler and less accepting of his presence. While Charlie enjoys flirting with Evelyn and responds to it, he tries very hard to connect with India, though she is a much harder nut to crack.
India fits better into the home environment than she does at school. It’s a shock to see her attending normal classes in a regular school, because Stoker gives you such a strong impression of and her family as disconnected from the rest of the world. I would’ve expected a private school, or maybe even home schooling with a tutor. But instead, we get a jackass bully who bothers her at every turn, though she seems more annoyed than actually affected by it. Until, that is, he mentions the rumor that her mother is sleeping with Uncle Charlie. Then she reacts with violence. It’s not so much what she does to the boy that’s disturbing, it’s her blasé reaction to it later that tells you there’s definitely something not right with her.
It takes Uncle Charlie a bit of the film to get India to warn up to him. Once she does, he proceeds from friendliness to seduction. It’s subtle at first, both his attempts and her reactions to them, and director Chan-wook Park gives us ample opportunity to notice before he makes it clear. For India, the attraction starts when Uncle Charlie proves he’s the same sort of person she is on the inside.
Her sexual awakening is particularly disturbing yet brilliant in a twisted way. Having gotten to know India in the film, the audience understands that for her pleasure is already entwined with violence on some level. Charlie and India’s relationship is something that can only develop under dark, some would say evil, circumstances and only twisted situations serve to enrich it, and Stoker feeds us plenty of those.
Things come to a head between Evelyn and India and Charlie eventually, and I was sort of surprised at the way things went. I didn’t mind the unpredictability of the ending, because it’s only after that you see all the places Chan-wook Park telegraphed what would happen, even if you didn’t realize it at the time.
Stoker has a ton of Hitchcock references, Uncle Charlie being a big one, India’s taxidermy collection being another, and it’s a fun game to try and find them all. There’s also a lot of symbolism in the decoration and the colors of the mansion. Stoker is one of those films that’s good to see with a group. You can then spend the rest of the night, if not longer, dissecting and discussing it.