A psycho uncle and his equally nutso niece recognize their mutual bloodlust in “Stoker,” a film that isn’t gory enough to be a true Grand Guignol, and not lurid enough for some so-bad-it’s-good giggles. Inert almost from the get-go, director Chan-wook Park’s work is an exercise in Hitchcockian style that fails to conjure up any suspense or reason for being.
The film opens with a family mourning the death of Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney), who has died in a mysterious accident. Shortly thereafter, who shows up but Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), a relative that brooding teen India (Mia Wasikowska, who unfortunately looks like Tobey Maguire in drag) didn’t even know she had.
Charlie (a homage to the similarly named character Joseph Cotton plays in Hitchcock’s “Shadow Of A Doubt”) seems a bit strange – and Goode doesn’t help matters with his all-too-obvious, one-note performance – and is a bit too familiar with Richard’s grieving but slutty widow, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). So poor India, who was close to daddy, broods a lot, reads a book about the history of funeral rites, spies on the couple, and suffers the indignities of classmate bullying.
Then she discovers the body of her missing housekeeper in the basement freezer. But does India report this to the authorities? Tell her mother? Or a friend? Not on your life. India seems to be in a daze, or maybe she’s just coming to grips with how much murder attracts her.
The fact is, director Park, a Korean known for his visual style and over-the-top violence (“Old Boy”), isn’t particularly interested in story (the screenplay, incidentally, was written by “Prison Break’s” Wentworth Miller). It’s all about the visuals, and even though they are quite fine, they do absolutely nothing to cover up the holes in the plot. Even when there’s a big reveal toward the end, for example, explaining exactly who Charlie is, and where he’s been all these years, it’s about as mind-blowing as saying, “That Coach K, he sure knows his basketball.”
Nor does Park seem to care about his performers, all of whom give paint-by-numbers performances. There are a lot of pregnant pauses, whispered conversations, creepily cryptic smiles and flattened line readings meant to convoy a sort of hypnotic, surreal atmosphere.
All this manages to do is make the audience strain to hear what’s going on, and wonder why anyone could care about this cast full of emotionally stunted zeroes. Me, I’d rather watch Daryl and Rick blow away the ‘biters’ on “The Walking Dead.” That, my friends, is real entertainment.