Best Horror Movies of the Decade: Stoker is a beautifully-shot gothic tale of romance and violence
All this month, we are counting down the 31 best horror movies of the decade and doing a closer look at why each one earned a spot on our list!
28. Stoker (dir. Park Chan-wook, 2013)
Park Chan-wook’s first English-language film, Stoker, is a stylistic gothic thriller with plenty of nods to Hitchcock throughout. Park brilliantly blends mystery, violence, and romance into a tight 99 minute runtime. And while this film received mostly-favorable reviews back in 2013, most fans of Park don’t seem to consider this as one of his best works. For me, this ranks right up there at the top of his films alongside The Handmaiden.
The story itself is pretty straightforward. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) loses her dad in a horrific car accident on her eighteen birthday. She is left to reconcile with her loss alongside her unstable mother, Evie (Nicole Kidman), in their secluded family estate. Things get interesting when India’s Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to live with her and her mother. Charlie is the brother of India’s deceased father, and up until he arrives, his existence was completely unknown to her. At first, India is perturbed by his presence. Charlie’s charm instantly wins over her mother. But she can sense that Charlie has ulterior motives with his actions. The already-frail relationship between mother and daughter is put to the test as they deal with an onslaught of emotions.
Eventually, India becomes infatuated with Charlie. And Charlie himself willingly lets her in on his secrets. In one scene, he asks India to bring ice cream down to the basement freezer, knowing full well what she could find down there. Even though it’s not a major spoiler, I won’t give away any details here for those who haven’t seen this yet…but you can probably take a good guess as to what’s in the freezer. Regardless, Charlie lets her in on his secrets without hesitation. He can sense something within India that she doesn’t even realize yet.
To India’s surprise, she is very much like her uncle in more ways than she ever realized. We watch her aggression grow as the story moves along. India feeds off of Charlie to unleash something inside of her that was unknowingly bottled up for years. And while Matthew Goode is excellent as the creepy, psychopathic uncle, it’s Mia Wasikowska’s performance that really makes everything work. India’s unsettled, yet stubbornly strong persona is portrayed so well by Wasikowska. She plays both the predator and the prey so compellingly.
Park gets everything right here with style and mood. There is such a strong sense of isolation in every scene that takes place at the house. In fact, I had to question what year it was until there were scenes away from the house when we get to see cars, cell phones, etc. Park sets up his own little world that perfectly caters to characters like Charlie and India. Charlie’s psychopathic, violent behavior is a perfect companion for Park’s beautifully-shot gothic setting.
I mentioned the Hitchcock nods earlier. You will quickly notice the Hitchcock-feel to this movie because that’s exactly what screenwriter Wentworth Miller was going for when he wrote the script. Most notably, he was influenced by Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. There’s even an Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt. But Park adds enough of his own style to allow Stoker to be its own thing. His knack for creating creepy imagery that gets stuck in your head for days is right on the mark here.