Originally published on February 4
The media and art that I always tend to be attracted to, some would say, could fall into the disturbing spectrum. I like messy, complicated and at times psychotic female characters. This has ranged from falling in love with Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar in high school, Cindy Sherman’s photography, Diablo Cody’s underappreciated and brilliant Young Adult and my current obsession with Enlightened and American Horror Story: Asylum.
Los Angeles based theater (and one of my favorite places in the city), Cinefamily, throughout the month of February is hosting a program, House of Psychotic Women, based on Kier-La Janisse’s new book, House of Psychotic Women. Janisse looks the ways in which female madness functions within cinema, weaving personal history and film criticism together.
Director Park Chan-Wook’s first English language film (fitting in well with his revenge trilogy including his most famous, Oldboy), Stoker, fits rather seamlessly into Janisse’s work. The film looks at India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) who loses her beloved father (Dermot Mulroney) in a car accident on her 18th birthday. Through Chan-Wook’s masterful use of imagery, we get right off the bat that India has some unusual personal ticks.
She has a complicated, at best, relationship with her emotionally fragile and jealous mother, Evie (Nicole Kidman) which becomes further strained with the strange appearance of India’s unknown Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). India and Uncle Charlie share an immediate and increasingly strange bond as India becomes more interested in why Charlie has mysteriously reappeared after all this time–setting India up for discovering things she didn’t know about herself.
Wasikowska plays India beautifully, as a girl who is on the cusp of becoming a woman, but who is unsure exactly what that means. She’s complex–equal parts passive, strong, non-sexual, sexual–full of contradictions but above all else, ultimately terrifying–as she figures out her true identity. India’s relationship with Evie is particularly compelling–played with icy fierceness with a deeply human core by Kidman–a character that could be a one-note bad mommy stereotype.
Stoker is a film that explores the compulsive desires that lay dormant within us and what happens when we succumb to them–in the worst possible scenarios. It’s a visually stunning, horror filled look at the coming of age of India, at times campy, darkly funny and uncomfortable–but most certainly not boring.
Stoker is in theaters today.