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Movie Review: “Stoker”

Mar 252013
 By , March 25, 2013


“Stoker” — a film review by Gary Chew

“You have to do something bad before you might do something worse,” is a good way to begin a review of a really well-made film called “Stoker.” It stars Nicole Kidman as Evelyn Stoker, the mother; Mia Wasikowska as India, the 18-year-old daughter; and Matthew Goode as her Uncle Charlie. He’s the younger brother of India’s father, who has just died in an auto accident as the film begins. One of the early scenes in “Stoker” is the funeral of Richard Stoker, played by Dermot Mulroney.

Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska in Stoker

Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska in “Stoker.”

Very “upper middle-class” would be how to best describe the Stokers. At their lovely rural home in Connecticut, Evelyn doesn’t do anything. She sleeps in every morning, is well-educated and not much of a mother to India.

Uncle Charlie shows up at the funeral. India had not known she has an Uncle Charlie until he appears to mourn his brother’s passing. You find out why later, but only if you see the movie.

Goode is perfect in the role. He has eyes that look through you. His demeanor as Charlie, although affable and refined, is creepy, to put it mildly; almost as creepy as India’s. She’s nubile, and, at a rapid pace, becoming more keenly aware of her sensuality, despite her cold, harsh, remote personality. Evelyn is usually remote as well, but more self-absorbed, and seems to be getting a lift that Uncle Charlie has chosen to hang out at the Stoker family’s smallish mansion nestled among beautiful trees, with the film’s director, Chan-woo-Park (“Old Boy”) neither concerned about time nor place. I like that subtle touch he gives his film.

stoker, Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska

Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska.

There’s much more to admire: cinematography with its extreme close-ups of lead characters that make it all seem more intimate, and striking framing of shots and camera movements. There’s also excellent editing with a first-rate sound mix of dialogue, ambient sound and music. But the way Chan-woo-Park kept me nailed was with his small visual surprises that not only support and clarify the narrative as it shifts into higher intensity and complexity – in the third act – but are even more amazing than the credits you must be ready for at the outset.

At its base, “Stoker” is about bad blood that runs in a family, or if it does run in the family, and how such a familial deficit might present itself among its members, in forms such as animalism and dementia; and in the case of the Stokers, what can happen to those who are in short supply of the bad blood that’s apparently been passed down through the years.

The quote in the first paragraph is something that India claims her father told her earlier, when she was with him on one of the many hunting trips they took (just the two of them) to shoot fowl with their telescopic rifles.

This is quite a good film that has a “bad” subject – oozing repressed sexual tension. I loved every frame of it. I’m sure Sigmund Freud would have, as well.

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Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.

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