I don’t imagine Mia Wasikowska and/or her representatives care what a solitary blogger writes about her acting choices.
But I’ll write about them anyway.
Whether she is playing a demure 1930s Virginia preacher’s daughter (Lawless), a contemporary American teen (The Kids are Alright) or the title character in a period British fantasy (Alice in Wonderland) this gifted young actress has the ability to use her expressive features and innate acting skills to blend in (warning: cliche alert), chameleon-like, and make any film, no matter how “out there”, seem believable and authentic.
However, in my opinion, the versatile Australian actress finally realizes in Stoker the potential she showed via her role in HBO’s In Treatment. She was so outstanding as the sullen gymnast, Sophie, I had to check out the closing credits just to see who played the role. Of course, that was way back in 2008 (an eternity in web time) and Ms. W. was still relatively unknown in North America. (It was only later on Netflix that I was able to see her feature film bow in the 2006 Oz-made flick Suburban Mayhem.)
Needless to say, a talent like hers doesn’t stay hidden for long.
The screenplay for Stoker, credited to actor/writer Wentworth Miller and Secretary scripter Erin Cressida Wilson, features the ageless Nicole Kidman (does this actress have a picture in the attic?) as India`s alcoholic mother, Evelyn. Transplanted Brit Matthew Goode plays Charles Stoker, the unbalanced brother of Evelyn`s late husband, India`s father (Dermot Mulroney, glimpsed in flashback scenes.)
Ms. Wasikowska may be the first to say the tricky emotional family dynamics would not have worked as well without Ms. Kidman`s brittle and disturbing portrayal and Mr. Goode`s singularly creepy turn as Uncle Charlie.
That is partially true. And yet South Korean director Chan-wook Park (making his English language debut) has a reputation for the unexpected and thanks to Ms. W’s tantalizingly ambiguous portrayal I was never quite sure where the story was going. It’s an amazing performance, even more so when Park pulls the rug out from under the viewer (no, you won’t read about that here. As they used to say in American gangster films, “I ain’t no rat.”)
Speaking of South Korea’s Master Film-Maker ….
As the trailers tell us, Chan-wook Park is the “visionary director of Oldboy” , a foreign language cult classic that has become such a word of mouth hit that an English language version is in the works. ( You would think Hollywood producers learned something after less than blockbusting results for the English language remakes of foreign language hits The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Let the Right One In. Apparently not.)
Park also wrote and directed Thirst, a uniquely twisted spin on the old vampire myth (detailed in a previous post on this blog) in which a Catholic priest struggles to reconcile the dictates of his faith with his desire for blood.
The writer director has a gift for twisty thrillers that make your skin itch and Stoker is so rich in eerie atmospherics you may not even notice there are only three principal players in the cast and most of the action is housebound.
The film-maker says he likes to make films with lots of questions and leaves the audience to fill in the blanks. Film critics have been more than happy to oblige, seeing in it everything from “a deliciously dark female coming-of-age story.” (Sara Stewart, New York Post) to “a psychological thriller” which “attempts to get into the minds of some sadistic psychopaths ... a subtly creepy, stunning film visually, full of cinematic metaphor … ” (Jason Korsner, UK Screen). Speaking of metaphors, the spider crawling up India’s knee is an especially (nice?) touch.
And, yes, as many reviewers have pointed out, the film is (you’ll excuse the verb) crawling with Hitchcock references. (The most obvious one is “Uncle Charlie”, a name shared by both Goode’s character and the sinister relative played by Joseph Cotten in Hitch’s 1943 chiller Shadow of a Doubt.)