‘Stoker’ a fractured fairy tale

June 25th, 2015 10:18 am

First Posted: 3/20/2013

There’s a suggestion of vampirism in the title of “Stoker.” The stylish chiller shares its name with Dracula’s author, but its fixation on blood moves in a different direction — deposits, not withdrawals. The tale concerns bad blood transfused from one generation to the next.

The blood relations in question are prim, privileged India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), whose father dies in a car crash on her 18th birthday; her icy, passive-aggressive mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), and long-absent Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). Charlie views the funeral from afar but takes center stage at the wake. Projecting self-satisfied charm unbecoming for a bereaved sibling, he mesmerizes Evelyn and turns moody India’s head as well. Soon emotionally incestuous vibes are crackling around their old-money mansion like static electricity. Is Charlie after Evelyn and her fortune? Or India, with her promise and potential as an accomplice?

As the attractive, elegant characters inflict punishment both unsettling and horrifying, the film asks us to ponder whether evil is innate in humanity, a family trait like freckles, or a matter of learned, imitative behavior. “Just as a flower doesn’t choose its color,” India declares, “so we don’t choose what we are going to be.” In this poisoned fairy tale, it’s hardly so open and shut. “Stoker” will leave you with more questions than answers — and quite a few nightmares.

The Stoker estate is almost a character unto itself, with a forbidding basement where hanging lights go a-swinging “Psycho”-style and the old freezer is just right for a body. As the bodies fall, the big question is: Who will be the final heir of this wealthy and apparently doomed lineage? The rich, wide-ranging score provides hints.

Renowned South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s first American production has the enthralling visuals and elegantly creepy tone that have earned him the devotion of fanboys and critics alike.