Say this for director Park Chan-wook: the man knows how to make a visually gorgeous film. His English-language debut, Stoker, which is essentially confined to the gothic manor inhabited by the film's main characters, manages to be a treat for the eyes despite the relatively static setting.
With its strong blacks and whites and bluish camera filters, Stoker is compelling before you even turn the sound up. When you do, things get no less intriguing. The film centers on India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), whose life is turned upside down when her father is killed in a car wreck on her 18th birthday. Already a somber loner, India seems further plunged into her own little world of brooding until her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) shows up at her father's funeral.
Charlie, who India did not even know existed before his sudden appearance, further disrupts India, first because of his inappropriate flirtations with her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), then because of his conflicts with their housekeeper and her Aunt Gwendolyn (Jacki Weaver), and finally because of his even more inappropriate flirtations with her.
The surprise here isn't that Charlie isn't who he seems. Of course he's carrying around a deep, dark secret that more fully explains why India hadn't even heard of him until after her father's death. No, what makes this a disturbing thriller is the behavior the chilling, creepy-eyed Goode inspires in this dysfunctional mother-daughter pair.
Fans of Chan-wook's cult classic Oldboy will find the incestual undercurrents awfully familiar, if no less discomforting. As the plot unfolds, you might find yourself too busy trying to figure Uncle Charlie's secret out. I think that's expert filmmaking on the part of Chan-wook and writing on the part of Wentworth Miller (yes, that Wentworth Miller from the FOX series Prison Break).
Though the thinly veiled distrust and dislike between India and her mother is there all along, it emerges from the background and hits the viewer like a ton of bricks just before the film's climax when Evelyn reveals the depths of her distaste for her daughter.
Uncle Charlie, vile as he winds up being, is just the straw that stirs the drink. It's the noxious mixture of India and Evelyn that provide the engine for this intrigue. Like many great thrillers, it's not so much the shocking secret that makes Stoker memorable -- that leaves it stuck in your mind -- but rather the even more shocking behavior of its main characters in response to an Earth-shaking revelation.