We don't need to be friends. We're family.
A 2013 film from acclaimed director Park Chan Wook
, and his first English language production, with a script by Wentworth Miller of Prison Break
After India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska
) loses her beloved father Richard in a car crash, a mysterious man shows up at the funeral - her uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode). While India is apprehensive of a family member she's never even heard of until now, and suspicious about his motives, her unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman
) welcomes Charlie into their home. Witty and attractive, Charlie fills the hole Richard left behind - in more ways than one. Evelyn's infatuation with him grows, but India's manipulative, charming uncle seems to be more interested in India herself...
This can only end well.
Despite having a title that's rather similar to the surname of that guy
who wrote Dracula
, the film is not,
in fact, about vampires.note
(Although Word of God
admits that the book was a big influence, as was Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt
This film provides examples of:
- Abusive Parents: "You know, I've often wondered why it is we have children? And the conclusion I've come to is, we want someone to get it right this time. But not me. Personally speaking, I can't wait to watch life tear you apart." Evelyn, ladies and gents. Although, in Evelyn's defense, this statement was made after she caught India in what was probably an Almost Kiss with her uncle Charlie, who Evelyn herself had been having an affair with.
- Possibly Richard and Charlie's parents too, judging from the screenplay — though the circumstances make that a little more understandable.
- Adult Fear: The film runs on some standard middle-tier adult and coming-of-age fears: losing a spouse or a parent in a car accident and finding out that they were keeping things from you, realizing you're getting older and being afraid no man will ever love you again, realizing you're getting older and you're not a kid any more, worrying your child might prefer their other parent to you and that it's too late to win their love again, seeing a parent descend into depression and alcoholism, anxieties about what family means and what it means to have a house to come home to. But what takes the cake is something completely horrifying. The plot hinges on the death of a four-year-old boy by being buried alive while playing, by an only slightly older sibling. Jonathan's toys and the decorations for the sandcastle he was making are strewn around him, and the perpetrator lies there numbly, unbothered. The kid responsible is taken away to be institutionalized, noncomprehending, but becoming frightened and resistant when he's pulled out of the back seat of the car. This is juxtaposed with the same child, now an adult man, sitting in the front seat of a car terrified and furious that he's going to be abandoned again while his big brother is faced with the impossible choice of forgiving his clearly disturbed little brother for what he did (on purpose? on accident?) and for the way it tore the family apart, or keeping him far, far away from his own wife and child.
- Ambiguous Disorder: India and Charlie, characterized by long periods of silence, inordinate attention to small details (coupled with a disregard for the big picture), disdain for social interaction, habitual lack of eye contact, a dislike of physical contact, and abnormally intense interests, all of which seem to suggest Asperger Syndrome.
- Asshole Victim: Whip Taylor, India's attempted rapist.
- Ascetic Aesthetic: Oh yeah. While everything looks quite nice, there's this very ugly feel that everything isn't right.
- Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: In a subdued sense, India's saddle shoes and neat dresses (never pants), which give her the look of having walked out of a bygone era.
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted; despite the stylized nature of the film and its violence, India is shown getting scraped up and blistered from playing in the woods and legitimately filthy and clammy after her part in disposing of Whip.
- Black and Gray Morality: India isn't as bad as Charlie but she still has a dark side.
- Big "NO!": Evelyn, when she gets the call that her husband has been in an accident. Overlaps with Death Wail.
- Big Screwed-Up Family: Even if there're only three of them, there's plenty of screwiness to go around. It goes back at least one generation, too.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Whip initially comes off as a Token Good Teammate with the Jerk Jocks, but he turns out to be pretty nasty. See Dogged Nice Guy.
- Buried Alive: The fate of Jonathan Stoker.
- Chekhov's Gift: On her 18th birthday, India receives a key, which opens the drawer to her father's desk where all the letters sent by Charlie to her have been kept.
- Comforting the Widow: Charlie and Evelyn - although, to be fair, Evelyn is rather emotionally distraught at this point.
- Coming-of-Age Story: And in a very surreal and weird way as well.
- Convenient Slow Dance: Summer Wine is not a typical slow dance choice, but they seem plenty into each other regardless.
- Could Have Avoided This Plot: If only Richard Stoker had told his family about his brother. At the very least, they would have known that Charlie was lying about where he was all this time.
- Creepy Basement: Where the ice cream is kept.
- Creepy Blue Eyes: All three Stokers have rather piercing, disconcerting eyes. (Amusingly, all three actors had to wear contacts to get that effect.)
- Creepy Child: India dresses in a manner to evoke this, despite being a (young) adult. By all evidence, Charlie was this.
- Creepy Souvenir: Not a body part, closer to the dog tag variant of the trope - Charlie wears Richard's driving sunglasses, plucked off his face after beating him to death with a rock. After his death, India's happy to do the same again.
- Creepy Uncle: Charlie; he's awfully concerned with his niece India being "of age". Too bad that's not the biggest thing wrong with him...
- Daddy's Girl: India adored her father, and vice versa; he taught her how to hunt. Her mother, on the other hand...
- Dangerously Genre Savvy: Charlie kills off Mrs. McGarrick as soon as she begins to act against his plans, and later steals Aunt Gwendolyn's cell phone in order to locate and kill her
- A Date with Rosie Palms: India masturbates in the shower to the memory of one of Charlie's murders.
- Date Rape Averted: Charlie swoops in to save the day. With a belt.
- Deadpan Snarker: India is this at times.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Evelyn warms up under Charlie's attentions.
- Did Not Die That Way: Richard Stoker.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Subverted with Whip Taylor, who tries to rape India.
- Duet Bonding: India and Charlie are both pianists, and at one point play together rather suggestively.
- Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: India, in stark contrast to Evelyn's red hair, is one of these. So is Charlie.
- Emotionless Girl: India, to a tee. She's still a damn sight more emotional than in the screenplay — she's shocked at Charlie's murder of Jonathan and of her father, slapping him, and spares her mother at the end.
- Enfant Terrible: In his childhood years, Charlie.
- Fan Disservice: India masturbates in the shower to the memory of one of her uncle's murders.
- Charlie is about to have sex and starts making out with Evelyn.... only for him to start strangling and trying to kill her. He even calls India to watch!
- Faux Affably Evil: Charlie is quite charismatic, and seems fairly charming at first. He's still an utter monster though.
- Genre Savvy: Aunt Gwendolyn, who's terrified enough of Charlie to not say anything in front of him even as much as she tries to intervene, trying to get both India and Evelyn alone so that she can warn them, then later decided to stay in a different hotel from the one originally planned so as to hide from him. This is all to no avail, unfortunately
- Gory Discretion Shot:
- When India shoots Charlie.
- Downplayed at the end when India stabs the sheriff but the audience sees this from a distance.
- Gossipy Hens: The housekeeper's assistants, and some of the guests at the funeral, which India's acute hearing makes her painfully aware of.
- Hates Being Touched: India and Charlie in a case of Not So Different.
- High-Pressure Blood: Justified, India stabs the sheriff in the carotid artery
- Improbably Cool Car: Charlie drives an immaculate classic Jaguar convertible. Justified as we find out that Richard bought it for him as part of his plan to move Charlie to a new life in New York City. He chose an old Jaguar as it was Charlie's favourite car as a child.
- Incest Is Relative: India is intrigued by, and eventually obsessed with, her uncle. Admittedly an uncle she only found out about when he turned up at her dad's funeral, but still.
- In Love with Your Carnage: One possible interpretation of India's strong reaction to seeing Charlie kill her would-be rapist.
- Important Haircut: Evelyn cuts her glossy red hair to about jaw-length after seeing India and Charlie in what seemed like a compromising position.
- Improvised Weapon: Multiple times — with pencils as mentioned in The Pen Is Mightier below, a shovel (in the screenplay at least), a belt, and a pair of garden shears.
- Infant Immortality: Averted. Poor Jonathan.
- Ironic Echo: "I just have to love you a little less now." Spoken from Richard to Charlie on the way from the asylum, and from Charlie to Richard as he kills him.
- Jerk Jock: Those of India's male classmates who harass her the most, including Whip Taylor.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: Charlie's murder of Whip.
- Lady Drunk: Evelyn spends a fair amount of time in this state.
- Meaningful Background Event: As Whip Taylor struggles to take off his belt in order to rape India, we get a good long shot of Charlie coming up behind him soundlessly. Doing exactly the same thing, albeit for different purposes.
- Meaningful Name: Stoker, as in, one who stokes.
- Not So Stoic: Charlie starts tearing up when Richard tells him that he won't be taking him home and to stay away from India.
- Once More with Clarity: The opening scene shows India standing in a field and smiling. The nearby presence of a police car is odd, but oh well, look at the pretty red flowers. Fast-forward to the end, and it turns out she's actually smiling at the sheriff whom she's stabbed. And those red flowers? That's blood.
- Only Sane Man:
- Meddling and nosy as Aunt Gwendolyn is, she's still one of these, as is the housekeeper Mrs McGarrick. So, naturally, they're swiftly dealt with.
- The sheriff becomes this towards the end of the movie, much in the same vein.
- Papa Wolf: Charlie is quick to defend his new family. By any means necessary.
- Parent with New Paramour: A Type 2, save that India really warms up to her uncle.
- The Pen Is Mightier: When India's being harassed by a bully she gets a pencil ready - and when he tries to grab her, she stabs him in the wrist with it, hard enough that the nib comes away bloody.
- Protagonist Journey to Villain: India becomes a killer just like good ol Uncle Charlie at the end of the film, with her first victim being the Sheriff.
- Psychopathic Manchild: Matthew Goode views Charlie as being a child in the body of an adult, never truly growing up.
- The Reveal: Charlie hasn't been travelling the world all these years, he's been institutionalized — for killing his younger brother. He also murdered his older brother (and India's father) after being released when he was told he couldn't see India.
- India isn't crying in the shower after seeing Charlie strangle Whip Taylor, she's getting off on the recollection.
- Renaissance Man: A slightly more realistic example in Uncle Charlie. He's handsome, charming, well-traveled, a top-notch chef, capable of dressing himself well and speaking French like a native, and a brilliant pianist. If rumor is to be believed, he is also an accomplished poet, a missionary, and a skilled tactician. Too bad his skills have more in common with Hannibal Lecter than your average Gentleman and a Scholar.
- Rule of Symbolism: Birds as hunter and hunted, eggs, nests, blood, and India's identical pairs of saddle shoes (and symbolic donning of high heels).
- Sexy Backless Outfit: Evelyn wears a blue one near the end of the film.
- Scenery Porn
- The Sociopath: Guess who? Hint: It's Charlie. India becomes one at the end as well.
- Serial Escalation: The violence on screen gets progressively bloodier and more graphic.
- Sense Freak: The way India describes her extraordinary perceptions has strong overtones of this, one of the many elements that are reminiscent of supernatural creatures, but it seems to cause her as much distress as private pleasure.
- Shovel Strike: How Whip Taylor was killed in the original screenplay.
- Shower of Angst: India takes one after helping to bury Whip, but it turns into something creepier than that.
- Slasher Smile: Charlie's smiling face dallies with this trope — he's primarily a cool, collected Psychotic Smirker but after the exertion of having a breakdown and beating Richard to death with a rock his expression is a ghastly grin-like grimace◊ as he regains his cool.
- Stealth Pun: One set of posters at first seems like merely like a Design Student's Orgasm style grouping of natural imagery (roots, vines, branches, etc.) twining around images of the Stoker family and objects relevant to the plot, like Charlie's shovel or India's shoes. (There's a very striking promo video depicting the making of the poster set to Emily Wells' "Becomes The Colour".) But it's not just any collection of branches, leaves, and vines — it's literally a family tree.
- Stuffed into the Fridge: Mrs. McGarrick. Or the deep freeze, as the case may be.
- Southern Gothic: The setting is a low-key, manicured yet undeniably decrepit Southern American atmosphere.
- Teens Are Monsters: India's classmates are a bunch of chuckling, sneering bullies who harass her with drawings of her naked and show off by pretending to punch her, stopping millimeters away from actually striking her, in an attempt to make her flinch. India, however, is different — after all, she's legally an adult now.
- Trailers Always Spoil: The trailers give away an astonishing amount of the plot... while still having it not entirely make sense.
- The Jail Bait Wait: Averted. India is already, as Charlie would say, of age. Because Charlie specifically waits to enter India's life until her 18th birthday, having been preparing to be with her — and possibly preparing her to be with him — since his 18th birthday.
- Vampire Invitation: Symbolically, when Charlie asks India's permission to stay with the family.
- Well Done Daughter Gal: India and Evelyn.
- Wicked Cultured: Charlie.
- X Meets Y: Shadow of a Doubt meets Lolita meets Hamlet. (At no point do these meet Dracula, however.)
- Although the film does feel like a vampire film without the vampire, as this review noted.
- Yandere: Charlie. He killed his brother Jonathan because he couldn't stand the attention he was getting over him and then there's his relationship with India.
- You Remind Me of X: "You look like my father."
- You Said You Couldn't Play Piano: India's suspicions are roused by the fact that when at the piano bench with her mother, Charlie pretends he can barely play Hot Cross Buns so Evelyn will have to teach him, but when he's with her... The exchange of dialogue doesn't take place, but it seems highly suggested by some interesting looks.