Mia Wasikowska Finds Trippy Mystery in ‘Stoker’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – There is cause and effect in life, and there are times when random acts of circumstance rinses it all away. Those emotions are realized in the strange yet compelling composition of the new film “Stoker,” featuring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and Matthew Goode.

Director Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”) weaves a dream state into a rather standard Hitchcockian thriller, which allows the material to rise to a fascinating visual and performance level. The use of the actors as chess pieces on the story board, creating mystery through their interplay, was inventive uplift in the film. The three main players – Wasikowska, Kidman and Goode – were both skittish and subtle with their motivations, which generates scenes of surprising obscurity, sensuality and even horror. Chan-wook is an original artist, and uses his cinematic canvas in ways that are wholly innovative.

India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is a senior in high school, and her father (Dermot Mulrooney) is her best friend. On her 18th birthday, her father is killed in an automobile accident. These combined situations throw her household and mother Evie (Nicole Kidman) into a shattered state. There is a mysterious stranger at the home after the funeral, who turns out to be the brother of India’s father, Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode).

Mia Wasikowska
India (Mia Wasikowska) Feels Surrounded in ‘Stoker’
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Charlie decides to stay at the family’s estate for a while, and immediately ingratiates himself into the daily routine. The relationship between him and Evie starts to accelerate, as well as his almost uncomfortable obsession with his niece. The situation escalates when the housekeeper inexplicably disappears, and when Great Aunt Gin (Jacki Weaver) appears with information that could disrupt the domesticity. There is a mystery to Uncle Charlie, and it has to do with his designs on India, and what occurs based on those designs.

What is amusing about the film is that the “plot” is derivative and essentially lifted from other sources, even the character “Uncle Charlie” was a similarly mysterious man in Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt.” The plot is merely a device to move the characters through this thick-with-uncertainly atmosphere, and to serve as a catalyst for baiting the relationship between the characters. The scenario is awash with psychological perversion and inexact couplings – father/daughter, uncle/niece and even mother/daughter. This becomes the “story.”

Nicole Kidman, bless her, is using this part of her career as a springboard into challenging characters and the crazy determinations associated with them. Hot off her freaky meanderings in “The Paperboy,” Kidman is the mother from hell, a cipher with no connection to her progeny, to the point where she places characteristics upon India that are inherent in herself. It’s a moody, rich performance that smolders to the very last encounter.

Matthew Goode, who hasn’t had a major film since “A Single Man” in 2009, uses his boyish good looks to psychotic perfection, imbuing Uncle Charlie with a serious affectation of the creeps. Chan-wook at some point makes the handsomeness a satire, as India uncomfortably experiences her classmates swooning over her wicked relative. Goode obviously relishes the opportunity to spark the character, and doesn’t waste the moment.

Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
Reflections: Evie (Nicole Kidman) and Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) in ‘Stoker’
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

There is a unique production design (especially with color), cinematography and use of transition that raises the bar of pure film without showing off. Chan-wook has his stamp, and it shows up throughout the narrative as an engine for mood and motion. There are several unsettling scenes – the appearance/performance of Jacki Weaver’s Aunt Gin, the sexual awakening of India and the use of the piano as musical interlude – all these factors and more are a fresh voice in a cinema art that is crying out for style over computer generated substance. “Stoker” makes its case, and then shuts the door on it.

The film could be interpreted as a replacement for purgatory, that Catholic weigh station between life and death, heaven and hell, existence and the spirit form. We are all victims of our relationships, and consequently those circumstances that spring from the air surrounding them.

“Stoker” has a limited release in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles on March 1st. See local listings for theaters and showtimes. Featuring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulrooney, Jacki Weaver and Alden Ehrenreich. Screenplay by Wentworth Miller. Directed by Park Chan-wook. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2013 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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