The script, penned by Prison Break’s Wentowrth Miller, made the 2010 Hollywood “Black List” of the best unproduced screenplays. Some of the most talked-of actresses in the industry competed for the role of India, which Alice in Wonderland’s Mia Wasikowska snatched, and the film was produced by Ridley Scott and the late Tony Scott. However, despite the impressive list of names supporting the production the plot of Stoker is surprisingly simple. In fact, it relates to the familiar plot of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and a fairy tales such as Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast rather than to Bram Stoker’s novel.
Stoker tells the very gothic story of the Stoker family set in the present-day. The clash between the architecture of the impressive mansion and the contemporary world ‘outside’ the bubble the family lives in is quite striking. The film presents us to India and Evelyn Stoker, a mother and daughter grieving the loss of the loving husband and father Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney). In a later flashback it is revealed that he has died in an accident and left his daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) and wife Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) to cohabit the mansion despite their differences.
…his polite smile and sophisticated behaviour hide something else…
However, on the day of the funeral the mysterious uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) arrives and decides to stay and live with the estranged mother and daughter. He quickly wins over Evelyn but protagonist India distrusts him as she suspects that his polite smile and sophisticated behaviour hide something else. As the film’s plot unfolds and India and uncle Charlie grow closer, she also becomes to know herself better and realises she is more like him than she thought.
The characters fit the gothic and threatening atmosphere created by the cinematography by Chung-Hoon Chung, who has previously worked with Park Chan-Wook. In fact it is the camera work that quickly establishes the relationships and outlines the role each family member would fulfill. In the meantime, the characters perfectly fit their roles in the creepy family. Mia Wasikowska’s pale face surrounded by her dark locks helps create India’s image of an unsociable teenager alienated by both family and peers, but in the same time it causes for some predictable moments. Meanwhile, although Goode’s uncle Charlie makes for an attractive villain there are details of his character, which are never explained, leaving parts of the plot unexplored. Finally, Kidman’s grieving widow Evelyn looks like a porcelain doll as she is seduced by the ominous Charlie or exchanges glares with her daughter.
…an outer-worldly quality to the characters…
The plot proves that litres and litres of blood do not necessarily make for a good horror film. Instead, Stoker’s ominous atmosphere stems from the suspense built around uncle Charlie’s figure, India’s unconventional personality, and the intense and incestuous relationships these family members build. In the meantime, the big empty family house, where the action takes place, suggests an outer-worldly quality to the characters, suggesting the nature of the secrets that lurk around the basement. The film’s visuals are fascinating and what other filmmakers would accomplish with long and complicated sequences, Park Chan-Wook has built with carefully constructed but brief shots and the simple gestures of his characters. Despite some unexplained plot details, Stoker’s eerie ambience would keep its audience interested even if the characters’ development is predictable.