Directed By: Park Chan-wook

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver, and Phyllis Somerville

"He used to say, sometimes you need to do something bad to stop you from doing something worse."
-India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska)

With the indie box office back in full swing post awards season, all I've heard about is Oldboy director Park Chan-wook's latest thriller Stoker.  With good will for Chan-wook and his strong cast, the film has had lots of buzz.  It's been the talk of the otherwise idle movie world these last couple of weeks.  With this in mind, I came into Stoker expecting big things, and I had every right to do so.  After seeing it though, I can honestly say that it didn't quite live up to the hype.

Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney) has passed away.  He leaves behind his wife Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and his daughter India (Wasikowska).  While India struggles with the grief of losing her father, Evelyn seems to get over it quickly, especially when Richard's long-lost brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) arrives and moves in with them.  Charlie has been on travel for so long that neither Evelyn nor India has ever heard of or from him.  Likewise, Richard and his relatives have never mentioned him.  India is slow to embrace this uncle she's never known, while Evelyn tries to make Charlie more than just a brother-in-law.  In this matter, India is right because they both have a lot to learn about their bloody family history and why Charlie is wearing her father’s old belt.

Good thrillers keep you entertained.  Great ones keep you in shock and awe.  Park Chan-wook's Stoker falls into the former category.  Stoker is definitely a fun exploration of the psychological underpinnings of one crazy, dysfunctional family.  However, there are no surprises.  There's nothing shocking or jaw-dropping about this thriller.  Every single one of the film's major twists is predictable long before it actually takes place on the big screen.  We don't have to guess who's going to die next.  We don't have to guess about Charlie's time at the Crawford Institute to know that he's got a few screws loose.  We don't even have to guess how the film will climax.  Stoker is just a straightforward thriller.

Park Chan-wook creates this cloud of mystery throughout the movie.  He makes the film so that we can see when a light bulb goes off in his characters' heads.  As India descends into the creepy basement in the Stoker home for example, she often taps the lights so that they swing back and forth in the air and give her a better view of where she's going.  As the lights swing violently through the dark basement like a pendulum, Chan-wook shows images of the people and things about whom she's thinking as she gradually puts clues together about Charlie and her family history.  In these moments, we can see the wheels turning in India's head.  Ultimately, Chan-wook's filmmaking style plays perfectly into creating this sense of mystery in Stoker.  The only problem is that it's a mystery for the characters and not the audience.

The actors give some strong performances in Stoker.  As India, Mia Wasikowska continues to hone her acting skills and puts them all on display throughout the movie.  The Jane Eyre star once again shows that she has a real talent for playing darker characters.  She's getting a little too old for playing a schoolgirl but she doesn't disappoint in this one.  As Charlie, Matthew Goode gives us one creepy, menacing uncle.  It's all in his facial expressions and in his eyes.  He skillfully gives off a spooky vibe and creates an aura of mystery around his character the instant he arrives on camera.  As Evelyn, Nicole Kidman takes a stab at making up for her rather disgusting performance in The Paperboy.  She deftly oscillates between the deviant widow and the loving mother throughout the movie.  It's also great to see Jacki Weaver of Silver Linings Playbook and Phyllis Somerville of The Big C.

Stoker is a solid thriller and, sadly, one of the best movies so far in this otherwise bland year.  I can't fault the filmmaking or the acting in any way.  However, the story just offers a great deal of predictability.  The element of surprise is what distinguishes good thrillers from great ones, and this thriller is lacking in just that.  Stoker gets a strong 0.06% rating.  Have a glass or two of Zinfandel with this one.