This is a murder mystery where a deranged murderer, who killed his younger brother as a child, is released from a mental hospital and comes back to kill his older brother and other members of his brother's family. Mia Wasikowska plays the lead character of India Stoker. India is a young woman just turning 18, who is very sensitive to sights and sounds she experiences in the real world and also lives partly in a fantasy world of her own creation. Her father Richard Stoker (played by Dermot Mulroney) dies in an unexpected auto accident on the day of her 18th birthday party.
Richard's younger brother Charlie (played by Matthew Goode), shows up at the funeral. He claims to have returned from a trip around the world but the truth is he was just released from a mental hospital. Charlie charms India's mother Evelyn (played by Nicole Kidman)who does nto know anything about where Charlie has been. Charlie finds a way to stay with Evelyn and India in their house. Charlie is very seductive and flirts with both Evelyn and India. Charlie has a fight with the housekeeper. The housekeeper suddenly disappears without saying a word.
Charlie stalks India, trying to win her over, even going so far as to come to her high school. India tries to ignore him. India's great aunt comes to visit with an important message about Charlie. Since Evelyn has already fallen for Charlie she will not listen to the great aunt and throws her out of the house. Charlie follows the great aunt to a local hotel where he strangles her in a phone booth as she is attempting to call India to warn her of the danger.
We learn that Charlie killed his younger brother, when they both were children, out of jealousy. Charlie also killed his older brother on the day he was let out of the mental hospital by faking the car accident because his older brother Richard would not let him come back home.
India is jealous of the attention that Charlie pays to her mother. Somehow Charlie's attention and flirtation, mixed with an inherent sense of danger, excites India. When India discovers the dead body of the housekeeper in the basement freezer, after Charlie specifically bought her favorite ice cream and told her to look in the freezer, she knows that Charlie was to be her conspirator. Rather than turn Charlie in to the police, she changes her mind and decides to run off in the middle of the night to have a liaison with one of the boys from her high school so she can do something bad also. She meets the boy and they walk alone in the middle of the night in the woods. She is teasing the boy. He will not stop when she repels his advances. He tries to rape her. Charlie suddenly appears and strangles him while he is still atop India.
Now India is truly a conspirator. She helps Charlie bury the body. Later when at home, she takes a shower to clean herself up. She is both disgusted and sexually excited by what has happened. The Sheriff comes to the house to question India about the disappearance of the boy. Charlie provides her with an alibi. Charlie and India makes plans to ran away to New York together. Before they leave Charlie attempts to strangle Evelyn to death. India shoots Charlie to stop him from killing her mother. She buries Charlie and then leaves her mother disheveled but still alive. On her way out of town she races by the Sheriff on purpose. When he pulls her over she kills him to get rid of the only person who has figured out what is really going on.
Best part of story, including ending:
The movie is very creepy. None of the characters have any redeeming qualities and all of them are seriously mentally ill.
Best scene in story:
When India's father is teaching her how to hunt, how to wait patiently for the kill, and she recalls he told her "Sometimes we have to do a bad thing, to prevent us from doing something worse", it is very clear this is how India formed her strange ideas about death and killing.
Opinion about the main character:
India seems seriously disassociated from the real world and has no ability to be able to tell right from wrong. We want her to get away because of this, but she really does not deserve it.