Psycho-sexual imagery is always spread through every inch of esteemed South-Korean film-maker Park Chan-wook ("Thirst", "Oldboy"). His movies inhabits within the themes of psycho-sexuality, psychological suspense, and hair-raising horror. His vision has a rarefied chill that somehow submits them fit for the art house cinema. The stylistic film-maker has now entered Hollywood with an twisted coming-of-age tale, "Stoker" (2013). The title of the movie is not an reference to Bram or his Dracula. Instead, Park has said that he has taken inspiration from one of his most favorite works: "Shadow of a Doubt" (1946) -- another bored girl on the cusp of womanhood.
"Stoker" tells the story of 18 year old girl, India Stoker (Mia Wasikwoska), who is at the funeral of her beloved father (Dermot Mulroney) - a traumatic event for the high school senior due to her closeness. India's mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) is a grieving alcoholic, whose parental capabilities are limited to remaindering her daughter to say "no thank you." Uncle Charles (Matthew Goode) -- her father's younger brother -- attends the funeral and decides to stay in the old mansion with India and her mother on the edge of a fairy-tale forest.
Charles is a charming man, whom the family never knew existed. He says that he has spent most of his life traveling through Europe. But there is something wrong with Charles: his unblinking eyes suggest at an underlying craziness. People come across him has an habit of disappearing under suspicious circumstances. Evelyn flirts shamelessly over her husband's brother and he tells Evelyn "I want to know my brother's wife." He also encircles India with a patience of a predator. Soon, the revelations about Charlie's past inevitably follow and he seems like a vehicle for India to mutate into something more terrifying.
A slow-burning psychological thriller that may also be taking place inside India's head, is also a visual artistry with an immaculately framed tableaux. Miller's screenplay takes some leaps in plausibility, which is sometimes saved by the director's fanciful style. Park has created an neo-gothic thriller which never deigns into parody. Park immerses himself in the material in a borderline-hallucinatory atmosphere by making no gestures toward reality. At times, Park's direction seems too cool to ignite the lust and envy. Comparing with his Korean flicks, he has kept on-screen violence to a relative minimum. The subplot involving school bullies and Charlie's aunt have weak payoffs.
Chung Chung-hoon, Park's usual cinematographer, displays an eye for haunting detail: an eggshell cracks as heavily as if it were the Earth's crust, dingy freezer in the basement and a pendulum that predicts an unfavorable omen. In the dinner scene, the camera swings about the trio's heads to contemplate their shifting emotional dynamics. The direction and cinematography at that scene is slick and assured but also distracting, reminding us of the drama's overarching artificiality.
All the performances are excellent, with Goode providing an right touch of ambiguity and minatory as the mysterious Uncle Charlie and Mia Wasikwoska bestows the movie with peculiar vitality as she dangerously devolves into darker hungers. Nicole Kidman is perfect as the brittle mom, who radiates burning resentment and frustration toward India. Other characters like Jacki Weaver (worried aunt), Phyllis Somerville (aged housekeeper) digresses through the drama but the film is mostly transfixed with the central three.
Coming-of-age stories always serves as a perfect medium for horror/thrillers (Stephen King's "Carrie" springs immediately to mind), because that is an age of great emotional intensity, which can also manifest itself as unpredictability and fear. "Stoker" is a compromise between Park's idiosyncratic wildness and Hollywood's distaste to risk, but still remains as an intriguing exercise in transgression.
Stoker -- IMDb