Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman
Directed by: Chan-wook Park (“Oldboy”)
Written by: Wentworth Miller (debut) and Erin Cressida Wilson (“Chloe”)
Whether you can handle the bloodletting of filmmaker Chan-wook Park’s past work like “Thirst,” “Oldboy,” and “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” one thing is undeniable certain after seeing the South Korean director’s first American-made film “Stoker”: the man can sure set a chilling scene even better than most who consider the horror genre their forte.
Before we confuse viewers out there, “Stoker” is not a horror film. Despite Park’s last project centering on a vampire priest and the fact that Stoker is the surname of the novelist who wrote “Dracula,” the film “Stoker” has not one mythological fang working in its favor. That doesn’t mean, however, that it doesn’t have a piercing bite. With Park at the helm, “Stoker,” despite its narrative drawbacks in the first half, is a master class in tone, setting, and overall ambiance that everyone should experience with the lights off.
After the mysterious death of her husband Richard (Dermot Mulroney), Evelyn Stoker (Nicole Kidman) opens her home to her estranged brother-in-law Charles (Matthew Goode), a handsome and creepily charming man who is easy to recognize in the cinematic world as someone with skeletons in his closet. While the unstable Evelyn is more than receptive to Charles moving into her home, her introverted teenage daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) is none too happy that no one ever told her she had an uncle.
The family secret might’ve been for her own good as we watch Charles snake around the property making everyone he comes into contact with uncomfortable. The sexual tension between he and both Evelyn and India is extremely palpable with each glint in his eye and perfect smile. In one scene, Charles sits down at a piano to play a duet with India, who almost practically orgasms as her uncle moves his arms around her back to hit the higher register on the keys. It’s not so much the idea Charles desires both women that is unnerving. It’s the vagueness of Charles’ backstory that will keep you wondering which way he will slither.
With the exception of the 2009 drama “A Single Man,” Goode has never been better. His subtle handling of his character feels genuine and never exaggerated. Both Wasikowska and Kidman’s performances are anchored by the self-confidence he brings to his own role.
Still, it is Park’s attention to detail that keeps “Stoker” truly fascinating. His use of light and sound, which are creatively edited into scenes throughout the film, are only some of the small gems that will stand out to those who notice finer points in the filmmaking process. It may be his first foray into the American film industry, but with “Stoker” he’s made an impression.