Directed by: Chan-wook Park (‘Old Boy’)
Staring: Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode (‘Watchmen’) and Dermot Mulroney
Outward appearances of a family’s dynamics and relationships can be deceiving, especially during a period of crisis, and everyone is trying to figure out how to best move on with their lives. That’s certainly the case in the new mystery thriller ‘Stoker,’ in which the old-money title family is struggling to reestablish relationships in the wake of a sudden and unexpected death. Through the Stoker family’s distinctly decorated mansion, which showcases everyone’s distinct personalities, to the creative costumes that track each character’s evolution throughout the film, the thriller is a visually daunting look at what happens when clashing personalities struggle to survive.
‘Stoker’ opens in the immediate aftermath of the death of India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska) beloved father and best friend, Richard (Dermot Mulroney), in a tragic auto accident on her 18th birthday. Her quiet life on her father’s secluded estate is suddenly shattered, but she refuses to connect with any other members of her family, including her emotionally unstable mother, Evie (Nicole Kidman). India further masks her feelings, which only her father understood, after his long-lost brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode), unexpectedly arrives for Richard’s funeral.
Charlie also surprises everyone when he decides to move in with India and Evie. While India is initially hesitant to trust her uncle, she increasingly becomes infatuated with her charismatic relative. She comes to realize, however, that his arrival is no coincidence. With her uncle by her side, India decides to finally fulfill her unusual destiny.
The mystery thriller’s story unfortunately started off with a disjointed and confusing look into the main characters’ motivations, and did little to clearly explain the complicated relationships within the Stoker family. India initially appears crestfallen over the death of her father, while Evie tries to keep up the appearance that she and her daughter are adjusting well to life on their own. However, first time feature film writer Wentworth Miller, who rose to fame by appearing on the hit FOX thriller series ‘Prison Break,’ proved to create an overall enthralling, stimulating story that delved into the emotional inspirations that separated both India, Evelyn and Charlie from society.
Miller subtly created a rousing suspicion into the true family dynamic, and the strained relationships of the three main characters. With India’s growing resentment over her mother’s seemingly easy ability to move on with her life, she becomes the perfect target of her uncle’s unrequited attention and affection. Miller subtly built growing suspicion among India, Evie and Charlie over who is truly to blame over Richard’s death, blurring the lines of who the true protagonist and antagonist of the film. Their lack of true personal connection with anyone in the wake of Richard’s accident offers the three lead characters the perfect motivation of why they feel the need to lash out for attention.
Wasikowska was perfectly cast as India in ‘Stoker,’ as she understood the character’s need to seek attention and reassurance from those around her. The actress emotionally evolved India from initially being timid and rigid in the wake of her father’s death, and not trusting anyone in their determination in helping her find her way. But once India starts to see the taboo intimate relationship between her mother and uncle as it begins to develop, Wasikowska boldly transforms her character into courageously defending herself. She begins to take pleasure in striking out against those determined to hurt her or cause her harm, whether she’s being tormented from her male classmates at school or the local sheriff is questioning her about several disappearances. The actress sophisticatedly draws attention to her moving portrayal of a teenager struggling to find her place in society, after her entire world has drastically changed.
Set designer Leslie Morales skillfully enhanced Park’s story of a family struggling to learn how to readjust to each other after a tragic event by creating elegant and diverse locations, especially in the Stoker mansion. While the thriller is set in the present day, Morales helped provide a mid-twentieth century feeling, to mirror a time when families strongly emphasized the perfect public image, even if they’re experiencing problems and disagreements, much like the title family.
Evie, who cherishes a lavish lifestyle, even though she doesn’t have a perfect relationship with her daughter, fills her bedroom with plush, extravagant furnishings, and appears more at ease when alone in her room than with her daughter. India, meanwhile, has a more simplistic bedroom that’s void of any true personal belongings. The room truly reflects the lead character’s rigid, ordered lifestyle, through non-descriptive yellow wallpaper and the sparse clothing she owns neatly lined up.
Costume designers Kurt Swanson and Bart Mueller brilliantly captured the true essence of India, Evie and Charlie by reflecting on, and incorporating, the characters’ belief in their innocence in their clothing. India’s wardrobe when her father first dies heavily features cardigans and skirts reminiscent of outfits she wore as a child on adventures with her father. But as she became more comfortable with the idea that she no longer had her father to rely on, and became more accepting of her uncle’s questionable motives, she began to dress more like her mother. She resorted to wearing silk nightgowns that her mother gave her, just to garner attention from men, and validate her sense of sense of self-worth.
Charlie’s outwardly charismatic charm is reflected in his causally elegant style, which he expresses from the time he first arrives during his brother’s funeral to the instances he tries to seduce Evie and India. From his cashmere sweaters to his saddle shoes, his outfits express his desire to move up in the world and prove he’s worthy of being accepted into Richard’s family’s life.
While ‘Stoker’ initially gives an at-time confusing look into the motivations of India, Evie and Charlie, and slowly builds the relationships between them, Park brilliantly emphasized the feeling that Richard’s family exist outside of the modern confines of society through the film’s visual aesthetics. From the expansive, isolated house India and Evie live in, which stunningly features the mother and daughter’s distinct personalities, to the impressive costumes that also focus on the characters’ emotions, the mystery thriller perfectly captures the true essence of the Stoker family through its visual elements. The set design and costumes perfectly emphasizes that the family focuses more on outward appearances than truly connecting with each other, and it takes the tragic death of the person keeping them together to push them to their breaking points.
Written by: Karen Benardello