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Review: Park Chan-Wook’s Hitchcockian ‘Stoker’ is a masterful English-language debut

STK-4541.NEF
STK-4541.NEF

Park Chan-Wook’s films have been the first exposure to Korean cinema for many western viewers. His revenge trifecta — Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance — are jaw-dropping in terms of stylized imagery and violence, with hardly a formulaic seam in sight. Park’s masterful English-language debut Stoker demonstrates an effortless ability to create outside of the comfort zone of his home country, thanks in large part to his acute attention to sound design and penchant for playing with time by fracturing and overlaying scenes. He’s created a thriller Hitchcock would love without trying to fill Sir Alfred’s shoes in Brian DePalma fashion.

Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller’s screenplay provides a platform ripe of potential. Mia Wasikowska plays India Stoker, an introverted teenager on the edge of her 18th birthday. She has heightened sensory powers, made more acute following the death of her father (Dermot Mulroney) in an apparent car accident. As her emotionally fragile mother, Evie (Nicole Kidman), tries to cope, her mysterious uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) shows up and decides to stay. Charlie adds new meaning to the word creepy, at least from India’s point of view. She feels a sense of violation as Charlie infiltrates her home and gains Evie’s affection, but increasingly feels drawn to him even as people who are alarmed by his presence start to disappear.

India’s home is as claustrophobic and confining as the hotel room prison in Oldboy, and the menacing atmosphere Park conjures harkens back to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. That film dealt with a young girl slowly getting wise to her Uncle Charlie’s true nature as well, but Park continuously delves into India’s unreliable point of view and never telegraphs where the plot will twist next. Stoker is a film for people who appreciate David Lynch but wish he were a little more coherent.