“Stoker”: Gothic Teen Meets Creepy Uncle

In the 19th century, the Romantics changed Gothic fiction, making it palatable to mainstream novel readers by jettisoning the supernatural elements and digging in to the psychology of terror. Two hundred years later, modern embellishments include cell phones and incest boners, but most of the other ingredients — murder, family legacies of guilt and violence, big ol' spooky houses, and graveyard proximity — are still pretty standard. The Tuesday Addams-ish India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) owns a large collection of saddle shoes, plays baroque classical piano, and dislikes being touched by other people. Also, her senses are heightened, the film emphasizing the acuity of her vision and hearing with some alarming, high-dynamic postproduction effects. On the day of her father's funeral, she meets her dad's estranged brother for the first time, Charlie Stoker (Matthew Goode), who has the bland affect of a Van Heusen menswear catalog and a lifetime subscription to Creepy Uncle magazine. India's emotionally unstable mom (Nicole Kidman) is all swoony over Charlie's resemblance to her dead husband in his younger years, and India's pretty sure her uncle is hiding something. Director Chan-wook Park assembles a narrative collage, jumping back and forth in the story's chronology in order to hide the various agendas of his characters, and embroiders the film's first half with lots of decorative, Gothic question marks. Kidman is a mother whose attachment to her child, unraveled over the years, is now at a breaking point. And Charlie, unlike her dead husband, seems attentive to her needs rather than those of her daughter. Yes, of course Charlie is keeping secrets, but India is the biggest mystery — at first creeped out by Uncle Too-Much-Eye-Contact, before the classical tune of infatuation starts up again.

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