After India’s (Mia Wasikowska) father dies, her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother (Nicole Kidman). She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.
Stoker almost immediately establishes itself as a feature that’s fixated more towards its cinematography than storytelling. In 2011, Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene similarly let its camerawork compensate for the sparseness of its narrative, and director Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker adopts this approach to lodge us into the mental state of each character. Hence, the emphasis on state through confined spaces, backlit landscapes, filtered images and distant silhouettes captured in odd, tilted angles and using very specific camera movements lets us forgive the fact that this is basically an ‘uncanny protagonist’ (Carrie/Martha Marcy/Pauline i.e. from Heavenly Creatures) meets ‘mysterious stranger’ (Esther from Halloween / the ‘Stepfather’) fare. It becomes more than that actually when it avoids taking a beaten path with its final sequence, which seems to whisper ‘A happy ending for the central character need not be the “desired” resolution you hoped for, as a ‘virtuous’ citizen at least’.
What you get may disturb you, especially if you are the sort of person who wants the protagonist to opt for the right path in the end. I don’t think anybody would’ve wanted Edmund from The Chronicles of Narnia to end up replacing the White Witch as the primary antagonist. Good sense must prevail over any temptation; otherwise, the world would be brimming with Beibers and Cyruses (actually, it is). And so one may be slightly nonplussed by Stoker’s transgression later on, but Chung Chung-hoon’s cinematography does enough till then to ensure the transgression ultimately doesn’t seem unconvincing or farcical. There is much to relish in the manner the camera captures the exact elements at the proper height, angle and focus in a particular frame to convey characters’ personalities, their motives, their state of mind, the relationship with other characters as well as the unsettling overall atmosphere looming over the Stoker family.
In a film that has two people with super-strong senses and crazy-good piano skills, casual murders and masturbation sequences fantasizing about one of the murders just committed and a shot of a spider climbing up the protagonist’s legs, it’s best to forget that the main weapon used in the film is a deadly… belt.