As Stoker opens, we're introduced to young India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), and faced with the off-screen death of her father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney). Already quiet and withdrawn, India seems to visibly retreat further upon the realization she will be trapped in the family's labyrinthine home with her psychologically weak mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). India and her father were bonded, and it becomes immediately clear that her rather eccentric gifts were supported and fostered in no part by Evelyn, who she seems to churlishly resent the mere presence of. Before either of the Stoker women are given a moment to grieve, their lives are further disrupted by the arrival Richard's mysterious brother Charlie (Matthew Goode), a charming, blood stranger who seems to take an immediate interest in India's well-being.
As is appropriate in these sorts of tales, Evelyn invites Charlie to move in and, immediately, the triangulation of this new family unit creates a palpable tension. Yeah, it's sort of that kind of tension. There's a push pull of fascination and revulsion, of the appropriate versus the undeniable, and Charlie draws the women in like a particularly seductive, smartly dressed spider. Of course, the key to all of what follows can be found in the curious nature of the film's dark heroine. India is no victimized nymphet, and Stoker isn't particularly interested in granting her less agency to make you more comfortable. Instead, we peak into the family's jewel box of a home to find a gothic tableaux complete with a quick-witted, dead eyed young lady who has cultivated interests just outside of the social norm. India is a pianist and huntress, a girl whose taxidermy kills dot her deceased father's study. When we meet her she's popping blisters from her beloved saddle shoes and when in mourning she buttons shirts to her neck and glares over a copy of The Encyclopedia of Funerals. As we slowly learn more about Charlie, as we uncover his dangerous past and potentially sociopathic present, we are dragged into India's chilling perspective.