Movie Review: “Stoker” (2013)

Stoker posterDon’t let the title fool you—this psychological thriller has nothing to do with the father of vampire literature, Bram Stoker. Yet there is something fitting about this connection, for the title invites the same Gothic sensibility, which is very present in this macabre movie.

The film’s namesake is India Stoker, a troubled girl whose father dies in a car wreck on her eighteenth birthday. Mystery envelops the nature of this accident when an uncle she never knew she had shows up at the funeral, and India’s equally-troubled mother (brought to life by Nicole Kidman) invites him to stay with them in their rustic, woodland house. It would appear that Uncle Charlie has spent the last eighteen years traveling the world—yet something about him is not quite right, evidenced by India’s great aunt, who tries to warn them of something before she disappears.

Initially, the plot takes a Hamlet-esque turn as the thoughtful and melancholy India observes Uncle Charlie successfully wooing her mother. Disturbed by the strange, almost-but-not-quite-incestuous relationship, the girl who is afraid of being touched runs off to recreate her mother and uncle’s makeout session with a boy from school, who has stood up for her in the face of outrageous bullies. The encounter takes a turn for the worst when we learn the boy isn’t actually the nice guy he appears, and Uncle Charlie comes to her dark and gruesome rescue. Though India has been extremely distrustful of him so far, their bond is now cemented by a terrible secret.

STK-9138.NEF

Don’t look in there! It’s not just ice cream!

The mystery surrounding Uncle Charlie begins to unravel after an awful discovery in their basement freezer, as well as a stack of letters India finds hidden away in her father’s desk. There is more to the letters than it initially appears. I won’t give too much away, because the revelations are so well sequenced as the tension mounts to a violent climax.

It’s rare to find such an artful horror movie, and it is here that Stoker rises above most other horror fare by leaps and bounds. Some might be hesitant to categorize it as such, but it deftly covers many horror tropes in a visually-stunning, engrossing hour and a half. I argue that this is not only horror, but it is what horror should strive to be. Folks, this is a horror movie done right: a movie that shows us that not all horror must be cheap, gore-filled trash, but rather there is such a thing as artistic, moving horror—something that I, personally, try to emulate in my writing.

Above: India Stoker, surrounded by shoes: an identical pair for every birthday. Her secret gift-giver doesn't have much in the way of fashion sense.

Above: India Stoker, surrounded by shoes: an identical pair for every birthday. Her secret gift-giver doesn’t have much in the way of fashion sense.

Stoker really succeeds on all levels: stylistic editing, Gothic visuals, a clever script, spot-on acting, and a truly haunting piano score (I can’t stress how important music is in horror movies). Though the few schoolmates we meet are a bit painfully over the top, that’s easily forgiven in light of the artistry at work in the movie. Nicole Kidman is a perfect emotionally-distant yet somehow neglected mother, and Mia Wasikowska provides great depth to what might otherwise be a one-dimensional troubled teen character.

Hey, Hollywood: are you listening? This is what you need to emulate if you want to create a brilliant horror movie. Stop relying on cheap shocks. The insidious draw of this movie trumps any jump scares you might throw at us.

FINAL VERDICT

Plot: 9 out of 10 mysterious shoeboxes

Acting: 9 out of 10 mysterious shoeboxes

Visuals: 10 out of 10 mysterious shoeboxes

Music: 10 out of 10 mysterious shoeboxes

Scare factor: 7 out of 10 mysterious shoeboxes

Overall: 9 out of 10 mysterious shoeboxes

*Please note that I watched this movie on a plane, and it was edited for content. Apparently, they cut out at least one entire scene, so I’ll have to see the full unedited version—but it didn’t feel as though I was missing anything when I watched.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Movie Review: “Stoker” (2013)

  1. I just watched Stoker last night and cannot stop thinking about the film. I have been reading various critiques and am puzzled that it appears no one else sees the various connections to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This film is rich with complexity; however, I see so many images of Dracula leaping out. For instance, Uncle Charlie insists that it is important to him that India also invite him into their home. Sound familiar? Similar in nature to the villager folk trying to warn Jonathan Harper of Dracula, is the Aunt, begging India’s mother to rethink their living arrangement. Did anyone notice that Uncle Charlie never eats? He only seems to ever sip on red wine. Jonathan Harper is the Protagonist in Dracula. Charlie’s youngest brother’s name is also Jonathan. Whit is the name of the character that attacks India after she bites him… Yes, bites him. Whitby is one of the main settings in Dracula. The freezer hidden very deep below in the basement of the home, is sarcophagus like. I agree, India is both victim and predator here. She is portrayed as being in sort of a metamorphosis stage. I see this in the various egg imagery. Even the egg shaped chair she sits in while in the garden is suggestive of something/someone about to break free. Another image that struck me was that of her pencil box. Perhaps symbolic of The vampire hunter’s tools… Stakes??? The sharp, fang-like pencil is the beginning of her spiral into darkness. I also couldn’t help but notice similarity of characters (even physically)- Mother Evie and Dracula’s Lucy, and India and Dracula’s Mina. No, in my opinion, this film was not only named after Bram Stoker but also serves as modern day version of the themes revealed in his greatest novel. The highly erotic and sexual thrill experienced from violence is every bit the same depicted by Dracula. One last thing… Every single kill involves the neck. Coincidence? I think not. I must also state I see a lot of Hitchcock here. The shower scene is very similar to Psycho… Blood and dirt running down the drain, focus on the shower head, focus on India’s dilated pupils. I am assuming this was the scene cut in the edited version, as it was very sexual in nature. Overall, I really love this film and agree Hollywood should aspire to make more high concept horror.

    • Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t notice most of those things you pointed out. Those are some extraordinary and insightful analyses that deepen the underlying themes of the movie. I’m even more impressed now. Do you have your own blog? You should post this review somewhere because you’ve made some very interesting comparisons here, and they deserve to be shared and read! Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s