Park Chan Wook probably outdone himself with Stoker given the casting coup of his leading players in the film, which surprisingly is written by Wentworth Miller of Prison Break fame. It's quite unlike any other, telling of a twisted tale of grooming, steeped in sex, violence and coming of age, with an exuberance of sensuousness draping every scene, so seductively shot that you'll clamour for a repeated viewing to partake in its themes and probably gawk at its visuals all over again in this psycho-sexual thriller like none other.
It takes a while to piece things together, where we meet up with India (Mia Wasikowska), a teenager who seems extremely disturbed, aloof and all, having to deal with the recent death of her father. Mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) seem to have taken it in her stride, then again because of the presence of her husband's brother Charlie (Matthew Goode), a man whom both mother and daughter have not met in years, who had now come as a source of comfort living under the same roof, with both women being drawn to the enigma of the man, only for a slow nightmare to unravel, and serve as India's catalyst in growing up.
Park's first Hollywood film continues in his tradition of tackling narratives that come with complexity, where nothing is just quite what it seems, providing that bit of discomfort when you finally thought you had nailed down to just what the story's about, but not quite. And credit goes to Miller for this unconventional story in what I thought was an extremely sly take on growing up, identity, and grooming even, though not of the usual positive values one inculcates in a young one. It's almost like the making of a killer with the pushing of one's boundaries with temptation, and constant goading even, as epitomized by Goode's Charlie in being there when India needed someone, and then equipping her with the confidence necessary to go over the edge, given her at her most vulnerable, and impressionable.
It's a psychological game being waged, with Charlie being the most fascinating of the characters here as the spark in one's life that throws it topsy-turvy, complete with a backstory and in current terms can be considered as the Devil incarnate, looking for that earthly apprentice to pass the reins to in becoming a walking havoc machine, and yet keeping you constantly wondering who's who, and what's what, untangling true and hidden intentions through perverse love affairs that's romantic and yet almost incestuous all at the same time, with possessiveness the main negative by product of an affair going to get, or already gone wrong.
Mia Wasikowska plays her darkest role in a character yet, as her previous roles have somehow bookended her and limited her acting range, and she has Park Chan-Wook to thank for something like this to roll along, and break out from her usual stereotype to take on something more sinister and challenging. Nicole Kidman was under-used, appearing in a few scenes and being nothing more than a flower vase, and lending star power to the marquee. Goode on the other hand stole the show being the thorn amongst the roses, and indeed if not for his fiendishly good performance, you wouldn't find it credible how one man can string both women along to an explosive conclusion.
While you grapple with the story, you're likely to be wowed by the sumptuous imagery that fills the landscape in the film, blessed with rich cinematography by Chung Chung-hoon, Park Chan Wook's frequent collaborator, that does the least in betraying the twisted tale that comes with the film. With music contributed by Clint Mansell, whose soundtrack lifts the movie up altogether into another dimension, Stoker has elements that demands repeated viewings to capture the nuances and gems layered in its story, with commanding performances being that icing on the cake. It's not an easy film to sit through for its subject matter, but boy it sure is gorgeously done.