"This 18-rated thriller is no predictable, run of the mill jump out of your seat affair"

After 5 hours of philosophy reading – Bergson’s Time and Free Will don’t you know – I was ready to relax into a very comfortable chair with an aptly hued glass of red wine for some schlock horror courtesy of what I assumed to be a contemporary Dracula pastiche presented under the banner of Stoker.

Boy were my assumptions off the mark – nary a fang was in sight in this detail-laden taut psychological thriller from Oldboy and Lady Vengeance Korean director Park Chan-Wook, making his English language film debut.  Though it took me 40 minutes to realise my expectations were askew and my attempts to link everything to a centuries old legacy of vampire – from the stop-start editing of the film’s opening sequence to the giant stone and scattered tennis balls in the garden, signs of disconnected time not wholly unlinked to my reading either – were uncalled for, I was not disappointed by Stoker’s actual unfolding.

The film opens with unusual framings of our protagonist, India Stoker, played by 22-year old Mia Wasikowska, whose introverted observer tendencies tread the perfect line between the gothic pallor of Wednesday Addams and the teenage angst of My So Called Life.  A hefty dose of nascent sexuality is revealed as she revels in the minute details of the world around her; sights, sounds and textures only she has the sensitivity to appreciate.

Recovering from the death of her beloved father Richard on her 18th birthday, India looks set to retreat into her own private world for good, whether fascinated by the path of a spider working its way up her stockinged leg or wandering the large gardens of her family’s secluded house, climbing trees to discover a series of mysterious gift boxes; until the appearance of her long-lost Uncle Charlie, Matthew Goode pushing the enigmatic lead male just far enough into darkness, dominates her attention. And India is not the only one to take note. Her mother, Evie Stoker, played by Nicole Kidman, is a resplendent caged peacock, singing once more at the arrival of this handsome travel weary relative.  But who is Uncle Charlie? Who has he come back for? And what do housekeeper Mrs McGarrick and Auntie Gin know about him?

The Stoker home takes centre stage for a drama fraught with suspicion, fascination and sexual tension on all sides. Park Chan-Wook masterfully uses the exquisitely styled 1920s mansion location to reveal the inner worlds of each character, from India’s rigorously geometric bedroom to Evie’s overflowing jungle boudoir, while Uncle Charlie is often witnessed by India, framed through a window and engaged in outdoor physical labour, as she delves deeper into the layers of the house in her attempt to unravel her Uncle’s past and how tightly it may be wound to her own future. 

This 18-rated thriller is no predictable, run of the mill jump out of your seat affair. After the vampire false start, I had no idea where the film was going. The tension builds naturally through the film’s unusually slow and steady pace, that eschews cheap thrills for subtlety and sets us up for an unexpected climax.   From Friday 1st March, India Stoker is about to come into her own. And not as a vampire.