Stylish and empty at the same time.

After India’s father dies in an auto accident, her Uncle Charlie, who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her emotionally unstable mother. Soon after his arrival, she comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives, but instead of feeling outrage or horror, this friendless girl becomes increasingly infatuated with him.

The film is a coming of age story within a Gothic thriller.

Park Chan-wook’s ability to make haunting yet beautiful imagery envelopes the film. He’s adept at creating a mood that forebodes peril, as well as drumming up suspense and tension from the ordinary. Minute details are enhanced, such as a crawling spider or glass sliding on the table. In key scenes, the climax is cut off and revealed later on.

The performances are great, especially Mia Wasikowska, who uses body language and facial expressions as a withdrawn teenager. Matthew Good is charming and cool yet subtly unsettling.

All of this makes for a technically brilliant, well edited and atmospheric film. However it soon becomes obvious that there’s nothing beneath all that flair for the creepy.

The protagonist isn’t relatable. Characters disappear. Plot holes emerge along the way.  The director teases you with suspense for more than half of the film but no actual threat is made clear, which makes everything drag on until the final act.

When the film finally unravels, there’s no emotional impact because the narrative isn’t compelling. The lead and other characters aren’t complex enough to give the coming of age story any dramatic heft.

Stoker is supposed to be a sinister character study, but the film merely manages to stir up imagined fears, like that creepy porcelain doll at the corner that you think is going to move but doesn’t.

My Rating: 6/10

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