Puberty is sex and sex is murder in Stoker, a Hitchcockian stew of hothouse familial jealousy, sadism, and psychosis all tied together by one teenage girl's homicidal coming of age. Psychosexual imagery permeates every inch of renowned South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook's stateside debut. A blood-tipped pencil, or water dripping between a young girl's shoes: These sights resound with over-the-top connotations suggesting danger in her carnal awakening. They coalesce into a portrait of femininity as a lethal and alluring force--and something, as Park seems to see it, to be celebrated as a source of power. The roots of that flowering are found in a cracked love triangle. Its corners: recently widowed Evelyn Stoker (Nicole Kidman), her deceased husband's out-of-nowhere brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode), and her daughter, India (Mia Wasikowska), a gaunt girl whose loner attitude and quirky habits-- she seems to collect birthday presents each year in a tree-- allow Wasikowska to operate in a more overtly Tim Burton-style register than she could in Burton's own Alice in Wonderland. India seems impossibly poised and invulnerable, as when she stands up to bullies with that pencil, or when she and Charlie join forces to dispatch one of her rape-minded school acquaintances. She never seems in danger of falling prey to anyone, including the icily charming Charlie. As such, the film often feels like a gorgeously rendered put-on, an exercise in play-acting various familiar scenarios--such as Jacki Weaver briefly showing up as the concerned relative destined for a swift demise-- devoid of heft or even sincerity.
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