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Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska star in gothic drama

Mar. 17, 2013
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Dracula author Bram Stoker is the unspoken reference in Stoker, but even though a full moon creeps unobtrusively into the sky and dark woods envelope a lonesome manor, and although blood is drawn, this is not a contender for the Twilight crowd. Whether or not any of the characters turn out to be vampires, the film by South Korea’s internationally esteemed director Park Chan-wook is steeped in the subtext of gothic vampire novels with their implications of dangerous, transgressive sexuality in enclosed, claustrophobic settings.

troubled protagonist, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), is an unhappy adolescent from a wealthy family dwelling in a gated estate at the edge of an unnamed American town. A virginal high school senior, apparently friendless and smarter than all her classmates, India is close to her father, a prominent architect. After he dies in a freak car crash, she turns sullen and unresponsive. India is already alienated from her mother Evelyn, played with cool, sensual flightiness by Nicole Kidman, and wary of the previously unsuspected relative who materializes at dad’s funeral. Uncle Charlie is played by Matthew Goode, his unarticulated menace concealed beneath the polished charm of a world traveler whose passport is stamped with mystery. He’s an excellent chef but doesn’t touch the meals he prepares.

India is an odd child in other ways; she has keen eyesight and awareness; her acute sense of hearing can pick out voices from across the distance of the buggy woods. What she begins to overhear is unsettling, especially Charlie’s erotic overture toward her mother, who responds flirtatiously, as if he is the ghost of her husband as he was before their relations grew distant. There’s more Hamlet than Dracula in Stoker, and a rippling Elektra complex runs deep below the screenplay by Anglo-American actor-writer Wentworth Miller. Charlie seems to stalk India. People begin to disappear. Something unsettling stirs.

is not shot according to the norms of Hollywood realism but artfully calls attention to itself as a film, subtly reminding viewers of the particular characteristics of cinema in scenes such as India’s reminiscence of childhood. Her father gave her a pair of saddle shoes on each birthday and the shoes in her mind’s eye diminish in size as she regresses in memory. Wasikowska is ideally cast—the eyes in her pale Victorian doll’s face darken in reaction to the horrors of an unspeakable adult world.

The plot may tempt logic, but so does life. Stoker is distinguished by the deep intensity of its mood, which is not surprising, given Chan-wook’s history. He was inspired to become a filmmaker after seeing Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

Opens Friday, March 22, Oriental Theatre.



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