Movie Review: “Stoker”

Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode,
Nicole Kidman, Jacki Weaver
Park Chan-wook

Korean director Park Chan-wook is one of the biggest filmmakers in his country and a cult figure here in the U.S. thanks mainly to his 2004 revenge thriller “Oldboy.” Fans have been patiently awaiting his English-language debut for quite some time now, and though it’s taken longer than expected for Park to export his talents to Hollywood, it’s hard to imagine a film more perfectly suited to his tastes than “Stoker.” A psychological thriller that’s every bit as tense, twisted and sexually perverse as the director’s previous work, “Stoker” is the kind of movie that gets under your skin and stays there for days, an achievement on its own whether you enjoy Park’s disturbing family drama or not.

After her father is killed in a horrible car accident on her 18th birthday, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is awash with emotion, but mostly curiosity when her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), whom she never knew existed, arrives at the funeral with news that he’ll be coming to live with India and her unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) in their Gothic-styled mansion. Puzzled as to why Charlie’s existence was kept a secret from her, India begins to suspect the mysterious stranger is up to no good when he begins seducing Evelyn just days after her husband’s death. But when people around town start disappearing and Charlie’s attention turns from Evelyn to India, his ulterior motives are finally revealed.

Written by former “Prison Break” star Wentworth Miller, “Stoker” plays like one giant homage to Alfred Hitchcock (particularly his 1943 film “Shadow of a Doubt”), but with a decidedly unique and erotic twist that only a director of Park Chan-wook’s warped sensibilities could conceive. To call the movie a slow burn would be putting it lightly, but just like the character of Charlie, it’s entirely compelling in the way that it patiently seduces the audience into an almost dreamlike trance. You simply can’t look away, even during some of the more uncomfortable moments, thanks to the stylish combination of Chung Chung-hoon’s rich cinematography and Nicholas de Toth’s playful editing. It would be easy to criticize the film for favoring style over substance, but there’s a lot going on behind the sumptuous visuals.

Though the movie features a pretty bare bones cast, all three leads are at the top of their game. Mia Wasikowska is excellent as the somber, emotionally cold teenager whose true nature is unlocked by the arrival of Charlie; Matthew Goode delivers perhaps the best performance of his career as the charming but wicked mystery figure; and Nicole Kidman rounds out the trio with a strong turn as India’s jealous mother, who slowly learns that she’s way out of her league in the psychosexual mind game between India and Charlie. The film’s visuals may be the star of the show, but “Stoker” walks such a fine line that it’s to the actors’ immense credit that the movie doesn’t devolve into parody. With that said, “Stoker” isn’t for everyone, but for those who enjoyed Park’s other features or have a relatively open mind when it comes to offbeat cinema, his latest film doesn’t disappoint.