STOKER (Park Chan-wook, 2013)
Opens Friday, March 1
Korean auteur Park Chan-wook has made some of the most suspenseful and violent films of the young century, beginning with the military thriller Joint Security Area and continuing with the Vengeance trilogy, consisting of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance, as well as Thirst and the romantic comedy I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK. A master of mood, Park finally makes his long-awaited English-language debut with Stoker, a creepy, atmospheric work that evokes Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, Paul Wendikos’s The Mephisto Waltz, the television show Dark Shadows, and Richard Donner’s The Omen while also managing to be wholly original. Rising Australian actress Mia Wasikowska (In Treatment, The Kids Are All Right) stars as India Stoker, a shy, introverted high school student whose father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney), has just died in a terrible accident and whose mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), is too quick to grow close with Richard’s brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode) — whom India and her mom didn’t even know existed until he just showed up at the funeral. Uncle Charlie seems to have a mysterious power over people and a chilling need to control situations, especially when it comes to those who know about his secret past, including the old housekeeper, Mrs. McGarrick (Phyllis Somerville), and Charlie’s aunt, Gin (Jacki Weaver). He also takes great pleasure in placing himself firmly in the middle of a potential incestuous love triangle with Evelyn and India. But once India learns more than she ever wanted to know about her uncle, she is both repulsed by and attracted to what he is capable of. Written and coproduced by actor Wentworth Miller (The Human Stain, Prison Break), Stoker is another compelling mood piece from Park, who creates a gripping, fearful, claustrophobic world inside the Stoker’s large Nashville mansion. He releases information ever-so-slowly over the course of the film’s ninety-nine minutes, resulting in plenty of frustration as well as suspense. The look of the film, courtesy of production designer Thérèse DePrez and cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon, often has a dated, 1950s feel to it, even though it is set in the present day, with flat colors that offset India’s black-and-white shoes. The film suffers from several leaps of faith Park requires the audience to make, asking them to forgive some relatively unforgivable plot holes, and Goode is not quite convincing enough as Charlie, but Wasikowska’s portrayal of the troubled young woman is riveting, and everything comes around full circle in the shattering conclusion.