"Stoker" is a visual treat from the creative opening credits to the colorful splendor of nature that's almost blinding. Director Park Chan-wook embraces texture, shapes and colors with such exuberance that each scene is a celebration of the visual. It's almost brilliant enough to distract from a plot that has some very dark problems.
Mia Wasikowska turns in a creepy performance as India, a young woman who just turned 18 and has lived an emotionally confined life. That world gets even smaller and darker when her father dies in an automobile accident. The arrival of Charles Stoker (Matthew Goode), an uncle she never knew existed, could be the spark she needs to come out of her emotional cocoon.
The film's big question is whether she will emerge as a beautiful butterfly or killer moth.
The script by Wentworth Miller, best know as the star of the FOX series "Prison Break," delves deep into these question: Are we predestined to be the people we become? Does our family or the environment shape the way we become? These deep questions can't be perfectly answered in the 98-minute running time and that forces the film to make large leaps that leave points in its dust.
The story also takes a dramatic turn without a true reason for the change. It's such an unexplained twist that the movie's final scenes don't play with any honesty.
India's mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), offers an argument for both influences. The aging beauty with a serious drinking problem looks like she's stumbled into this production from a touring company of "Streetcar Named Desire." She's not only an argument that India's eventual emotional development will be twisted because her mom is such a nut case, but she also provides clues that life in the Stoker household has been full of twisted messages that would test anyone's sanity.
Goode continues the creepiness, playing a VERY affectionate uncle. It's eventually revealed that he's the final piece of the mental puzzle that will either send India on a path of normalcy or down the road to mental despair. Goode manages to make the character both charming and scary -- the kind of person you want to trust. But there's something that screams he's bad news.
Wasikowska's performance is emotionless by design. The problem is she plays it so well that the moment of her awakening never escapes the deep freeze created by her cold heart.
Had "Stoker" been as smartly written as it is brilliantly shot, the film would have been an intelligent look at nature vs. nurture. The balance just isn't there.
"Stoker," rated PG for xx. rated R for violence, sexual content. Stars Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode. Directed by Park Chan-wook. Running time: 98 minutes. Grade: C+ | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.