When you imagine the film that would unite Aussie powerhouse actors Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska and Jacki Weaver, you probably think gritty outback drama. You don't think violent neo-gothic Bildungsroman directed by renowned South Korean director Chan-Wook Park (Old Boy) and set in wealthy New England. But that's what you get with Stoker, a film that's bewitchingly stylish but anchored by an intense performance from Wasikowska.
Wasikowska plays India Stoker, a somewhat sheltered loner of a girl who is deeply sensitive to small sensations — but that's where her commonalities with Amelie end. India, a recreational hunter in her spare time, is not all sweetness. On her 18th birthday, she learns that her loving father (Dermot Mulroney) has died in a car accident. Besides being left with her less demonstrative mother, Evelyn (Kidman) in their big ol' house, she now has to deal with the arrival of her unknown and perturbing uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode).
He is soon followed by his aunt Gwendolyn (Weaver), who appears to have an urgent message to impart to young India. Gwendolyn disappears and we have a movie, where Charlie obsessively draws closer to India while India tries to figure out who she really is.
It plays like something of a cross between Hitchcock, The Addams Family and Dexter. The script for Stoker, by Wentworth Miller (lead actor in Prison Break of all things), famously made the 2010 'Black List' of best unproduced screenplays circulating around Hollywood, and although it's trite in parts, it remains fresh and alluring overall. It's real strength, perhaps, is in its gaps and silences, which allow director Park to go to town with the mood, composition and imagery that ultimately make the film so memorable. There's one tracking shot, in particular, where a head of long hair morphs smoothly into a thicket of reeds, that will probably be shown in film schools for a decade to come.
Add in a score by Clint Mansell with contributions from Philip Glass, and you have a movie of rare aesthetic brilliance. It's not a total triumph of style over substance, but it's as close as you're likely to get.