“Stoker”: One Sundance Film’s Terrible Timing
PARK CITY, UTAH — I guess this is the way it goes sometimes: Stoker, which has seemed for so long to be an intriguing project (star Korean director Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut; from a script by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller; with a great cast led by Mia Wasikowska), is way too resonant of the Sandy Hook tragedy.
The movie, which had its premiere Sunday night at the Sundance Film Festival, is not about a school shooting. And I don’t want to spoil it, because to write about the details of why it is such bad timing would be to reveal the middle and end of a movie that has not yet been released.
So I will leave it at this: Wasikowska plays India Stoker, a rich kid whose father has died, leaving her with her odd and remote mother (Kidman). At first, India seems Wednesday Addams-like — sarcastic, black-haired, and with the clothes and manner of a different era. But as we learn more about her, in particular that she hates to be touched, she is being bullied at school, she has violent tendencies, she is a good hunter and is good with guns, she clearly is less the heroine of the story than it first appears. Her uncle (Matthew Goode), whom she didn’t know existed, shows up at her father’s funeral, and takes a clear interest in her: He is a charming, handsome psychopath. How their relationship resolves itself provides the movie’s plot.
There’s some shocking violence, as always in Park Chan-wook’s films. That in itself isn’t the problem. What’s disturbing to watch unfold is the story of a homicidal, expressionless young person who kills — and loves it. Worse, the movie does not seem reflective or intelligent about this very true, horrifying thread in current events: It’s all style and gloss. That the India character is also a type we’ve now become familiar with in popular culture — the unlabeled autistic — is yet another unfortunate coincidence for Stoker, when Adam Lanza’s real autism in our minds. (Especially since there is no link between autism and violence.)
The film was made by Fox Searchlight, and has a release date of March 1, so it is not seeking distribution here. I emailed the Searchlight publicists asking whether they wanted to comment. They politely declined.