When I first saw the trailer for this film it seemed like a horror film with suspense elements and an upscale cast. Many who see it might describe it that way but after viewing it my impression is quite a bit different. There are very few horror elements, I don’t think it is very suspenseful, and some of the cast is underutilized. Stoker turns out to be a film that holds us at a distance, sometimes wanting us to empathize with the lead character, and other times striving to have us repulsed by her. We never get a very clear handle on how she feels about the events that are over taking her life, and even at the end of the film, the story is ambigious concerning motivations and actions.
Many times during my screening I considered how much like an episode of the Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock presents this reminded me of. We have a young girl, still in high school, who suffers the loss of her father but seems to be handling it by detaching herself from everyone else she is connected with. Because we come into the story at this point, it is difficult to understand if her reaction is shock or if she is one of those people that we all are learning to watch out for. You know the ones with no friends or social skills who plan elaborate killing sprees for no discernible reason? “India” is the name of the character, and there is not really any reason for her name to be exotic, except that it creates an aura without having to generate any story to go with it. There is another character named “Whip” and it seems that everyone is fine with the names but the personalities are not reflected by those names. It is simply an affectation and it was a little irritating when the two main male characters names are “Richard” and “Charlie”. The story is hyper stylized in the way it is shot, and that is another thing that draws attention to the film instead of the characters. The story has a flashback structure and begins with a ponderous and thick headed piece of narration that almost sounds like poetry. It is “Art” not a story that is going to make this work if anything can.
There are a lot of beautiful shots in the film. Nicole Kidman’s character appears in some scenes only in the mirror that our lead is looking into. There is another shot where “India” and her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) are conversing, but he only exists as a shadow on the wall while she is speaking. A phone booth is fogged up for no barometric reason at all, it just makes the scene a little more unique to look at. The dead father was an architect and I guess that explains the easy availability of five foot wide stone spheres that are perfectly round on the property. It’s one of those movies where you feel like you are in someones dreams the whole time that you are watching events unfold. The two leads speak in a style that is hyper mundane, which sounds like an oxymoron but accurately describe the lack of passion that either of them exhibits until the last quarter of the movie. When emotions do begin to surface, they appear only on one characters face, the other remains bored and indifferent, as if continuing to live out a dream they have had before.
In a couple of instances, there are some flashes of emotion but since they occur in flashback scenes that give us different interpretations of what took place and seem to be entirely in the mind of only one character, those moments seem untrustworthy. Is “India” washing herself to get rid of blood, semen or is she simply masturbating for the first time? Each variation of the scene drives us further from anything that makes much sense. When the story plays out the revelations that are supposed to clarify what is going on, we can’t really trust it, despite the fact that it appears we are supposed to know that this section is “true”. Nicole Kidman’s character is either a grief motivated zombie, a slut or an indifferent and distant parent. She sometimes accepts the things that are being said and at other times ignores them. When she gets her final scenes with Goode, I wondered how she could be so smart and so gullible at the same time. The end of the movie comes with a totally unnecessary act by “India” after a totally necessary action. Like I said earlier, the tone of the movie is a bit bi-polar when it comes to her character.
There are some disturbing moments in the background story, and some pretty gruesome moments of violence during the rest of the tale. The Hitchcock reference to “Shadow of a Doubt ” is clear enough but the story stays so ambiguous and mystical at times that I mostly did not care. Mia Wasikowska was solid in “Lawless” last year, but is playing it so low key in this film that I could not tell if it was a performance or narcolepsy. She is supposed to be smart but there are no signs of that, she is supposed to be a proficient hunter, but that is told to us rather than shown to us. That she has some special way of seeing the world that she shares with her Uncle Charlie is put into background narration but not really demonstrated. The fact that a spider crawls between her legs into her crotch is creepy, but not because of anything happening during the story, just because it is creepy. I just failed to connect with this movie on so many points and I am disappointed as a result. I can’t recommend it, but I would not pull you away from it if it interests you. In the end it did not move me as much as it irritated me.