Review: Stoker

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: When her father is killed on the eve of her eighteen birthday, India (Mia Wasikowska) is left in the care of her cold-blooded mother- Evie (Nicole Kidman). Their world is shaken when India’s long-absent uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to live with them. Both India and Evie quickly fall under the spell of the handsome and charismatic Charlie- but India soon realizes her uncle hides a murderous secret.

REVIEW: You know how some international directors get shoehorned into a typical Hollywood genre picture in the U.S debut? Yeah- that didn’t happen to Park Chan-wook, the South Korean master behind OLD BOY. Whatever it is- STOKER is a Park Chan-wook film through and through- and the result is dazzling.

A few months ago, I wrote a review complaining about how Hollywood horror movies are nowadays typically regulated to B-fare. STOKER is the cure for this problem, as it’s a sophisticated, layered piece of genre cinema that deserves comparison to many of the best horror films of yesteryear. Well- perhaps calling STOKER horror is misrepresenting the film a tad. I suppose psychological thriller is a better description, with this owing more than a little to the oeuvre of Alfred Hitchcock– especially his classic SHADOW OF A DOUBT.

Working from a script by former PRISON BREAK star Wentworth Miller, STOKER feels like the work of someone intimately familiar with Hitchcock’s work- although I wouldn’t go so far as to call this an all out homage. The primary similarity is the young leading lady on the cusp of adulthood, who’s mesmerized by her handsome, sophisticated, and murderous uncle. But- where Teresa Wright was terrified of Joseph Cotton’s mania, Mia Wasikowka’s India is far less a shrinking violet. Sometimes, the thing that’s most taboo and dangerous is the most attractive, and that’s an idea very much at the heart of STOKER.

It’s hard to imagine anyone but the ultra-charismatic Matthew Goode as Charlie, and while the originally cast Colin Firth would have no doubt been great, this feels tailor made for Goode’s talents. I’d wager he verges on being iconic as the sinister, but attractive uncle- as Goode is one of those guys that can be impossible to read if he wants to be. This is a must for Charlie- who you’ll never really have figured out- even past the end credits.

Still- Goode isn’t the star of STOKER. This is Wasikowka’s film through and through- and India, which is an extremely difficult part, fits her like a glove. Like Goode, she has that distant, otherworldly look where you’ll never really know what their character is thinking. Nicole Kidman– while probably playing the most two-dimensional role of the film, is also quite good, and Kidman doesn’t shy away from letting herself come off as an ice-cold bitch, barely able to control her excitement at the presence of the handsome new man who shakes up her life.

Maybe even more than the actors though- Park Chan-wook is the real star of STOKER. It needs to be said- Park is not a subtle director, and there’s nary a straightforward shot in the film. Something unusual is always happening on screen, and to say STOKER is stylized is probably the understatement of the year. This technique may repel some- as it’s even more “out-there” than it was in THIRST or OLD BOY- but it fits the material beautifully. I should also mention that STOKER is probably Park’s most violent film since SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE. Pretty ballsy for a big studio film.

STOKER is definitely not a subtle film, nor a conventional one. If anything, it’s a film that probably needs to be seen twice to be fully appreciated. However, even at this first glance, it’s a film that’s virtually impossible to get out of your head after watching it. It’s pure- undiluted Park Chan-wook, and one of the most unconventional Hollywood films you’re likely to see anytime soon.




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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.