"Stoker" would be an odd name for any film, but it's a particularly strange choice for this one.
The word immediately brings to mind the author of the vampire classic "Dracula." But there are no supernatural creatures in this film, though it seems we're meant to think so at first. One of the members of this American family -- perhaps descended from Bram Stoker -- changes locations so quickly, he might be able to walk through walls. He never touches his food at dinner, either, though he's cooked it himself. He also has seemingly supernatural senses -- something he shares in common with his niece, just one of the many things that indicates these two will be drawn to each other, for better and for worse.
There's another film about a young girl drawn to the Uncle Charlie who abruptly shows up one day and whom she barely knows. "Shadow of a Doubt" isn't the only Alfred Hitchcock film referenced in "Stoker" -- a critic could easily lose count of all the others. "Hamlet" and "Lolita" are other works that come to mind. "Stoker" is a film brimming with allusions, yet it's also an encouragingly original work. It's by no means a masterpiece to stand along with those to which it nods. But it does indicate Korean Chan-wook Park, making his English-language debut, should not be thought of just as a director of specifically Asian film.
High school senior India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) tells us immediately about her heightened ability to hear. "These senses are the fruit of a lifetime of longing," she says in a mysterious monologue that ends with, "Just as a flower does not choose its color, we do not choose who we have become."
|» Rating: 3 out of 4 stars|
|» Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode|
|» Director: Chan-wook Park|
|» Rated: R for disturbing, violent and sexual content|
|» Running time: 98 minutes|
Those words will become more sinister as we learn more of her story. The teenager's father dies in a freak accident, and she's left with a housekeeper and a mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), who clearly has little interest in her child. She does become rather interested in the child's uncle, though, who stays with them after the funeral.
Charlie Stoker (Matthew Goode) is a younger version of his late brother (played by Dermot Mulroney in flashbacks), with the all the charm that years of marriage had sapped out of the older man. India is understandably perturbed by her mother's unseemly enthusiasm. "In Victorian times, wives mourned their husbands for two years -- at least," she says pointedly. But soon the sullen girl is upset for a different reason: jealousy.
"Stoker" can be as infuriating as its teenaged protagonist. It can be odd to the point of obscurity, and then transform suddenly into a thing of beauty. Park is a director of detail, and nothing goes unnoticed here. Music is one of the things that brings various characters together. Clint Mansell's soundtrack sometimes sounds rather like one by Philip Glass, who was originally hired to score this film.
"Personally speaking, I can't wait to watch life tear you apart," the not-very-maternal Evelyn says to her daughter. But families can do the job much better than the outside world, as the strange "Stoker" explores.