We don’t really know what to make of India Stoker. On the surface, there isn’t all that much to see, apart from a plain, impassive face. She doesn’t even speak unless she has to. But it’s obvious that something intense lurks through the corridors of her mind, keeping her in a perpetual state of deep thought. We don’t necessarily know what she’s thinking, not at first. However, one can sense how keenly aware she is of her surroundings, how powerfully she perceives and responds to her world. It is, admittedly, a rather narrow world; on the basis of what we’re shown, all she intimately knows is her house and the nature that surrounds it. School, which she does attend, is seen only briefly and comes off as foreign. We not explicitly told how she feels about other people, but given how reservedly she walks the school grounds, perhaps we don’t need to be told.
India is played by Mia Wasikowska, one of the most versatile and accomplished young actresses of our time, having played major roles in films as diverse as “Jane Eyre,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Albert Nobbs,” and “The Kids Are All Right.” She now stars in “Stoker,” a hypnotic, skin-crawling psychological thriller that marks the English-language debut of Korean director Park Chan-wook. It’s unnerving from the very first frame to the very last, and yet it inspires nothing less than helpless fascination. It invites us to decipher the characters, unpleasant though they may be, without much aid from dialogue. For the most part, we have only actions and facial expressions to go on. There are bold gestures, like stabbing someone in the hand with a pencil, or breaking someone’s neck with a belt, or stuffing a body into a basement freezer. On the same token, there are subtleties, such as a slight smirk, or a raised eyebrow, or a piano duet that may or may actually be taking place.
When the film begins, we get a sense of the affluence India has been raised in – a spacious house nestled in a picturesque patch of isolated forest land. This world is the setting for India’s eighteenth birthday, which is, unfortunately, the same day her father (Dermot Mulroney) dies mysteriously in a car accident. At his funeral, India notices the silhouetted figure of a man standing on hill in a distant section of the cemetery. She stares at him, knowing full well that he’s staring right back at her. Later, at the wake, India’s mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), introduces India to her uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode). Up until that very moment, India didn’t know that she had an uncle. He’s boyishly handsome and affable, if a little soft spoken. He seems to be getting along splendidly with Evelyn, who was in tears over her husband only a few hours earlier. India has no idea how to process this man, certainly not after losing her father, who bonded with her during hunting trips.