Stoker marks Korean director Park Chan-wook’s first foray into making a Hollywood feature in English, but he has not strayed too far from his roots. Following on from the themes he explored in his previous movies, Stoker is a sexually deviant tale of lust, jealousy and the very unenviable task of coming of age, explored with much of Park’s customary visual style. Closer to last year’s Korean hit The Taste of Money or even its prequel, The Housemaid (2010), than anything released in the mainstream, Stoker is a gorgeous marriage of style and substance.
The story revolves around 18-year-old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), whose life is turned upside down following the death of her father in a tragic car accident. Left with her emotionally unstable mother (Nichole Kidman), India is further thrown into disarray with the arrival of her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode): a man hitherto unknown to her and who might have ulterior motives.
The performances from the trio of leads is impressive: the dance between Charlie and India is set to a vicious and sexual beat – Wasikowska and Goode are more than adept at capturing it – while Kidman brings a sense of disdain and jealousy to her character that Bette Davis would’ve been proud of. Wentworth Miller’s script is an unfolding joy: taking its cue from Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), it explores the story with a sense of sexual deviancy that Hitchcock would surely have approved of, while Park’s use of visual motifs within the film recalls the more abstract images in Vertigo (1958). However, the film’s real coup is the use of physical space. It is deliberate in its attempt to disorient the viewer: impossible exits and entrances, sudden shifts within rooms and a lot more bring to mind the architectural deliberations of Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves.
Something must also be said for the incredible supercharged soundtrack by Clint Mansell, to which is added a Philip Glass piece that captures the emotional glass heart of the film perfectly. Emily Wells is the icing on the cake of what might indeed be the best soundtrack of the year, alongside Maniac.
Although the film will have its detractors, it’s hard not to be impressed with what Park has achieved here: a Korean movie in Hollywood clothing, Stoker is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.