By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –- What an odd, fascinating, creepy movie.
Stoker is a bizarre psychological horror thriller -– equal parts bloody, silly, campy, and frilly -– from South Korean director Park Chan-wook, making his English-language debut.
Mia Wasikowska plays India Stoker, an introverted, sullen teenager whose beloved father, played in flashbacks by Dermot Mulroney, has just died in an automobile accident on her 18th birthday.
This further alienates her from her unstable and lonely but well-fixed mother, Evelyn, played by Nicole Kidman, whom India feels is barely even distracted by a hardly noticeable grief.
Matthew Goode plays Charlie, who turns up at his brother’s funeral. This uncle whom India never even knew existed then, at Evelyn’s invitation, moves into their lavish Connecticut home with Evelyn and India.
India is instantly infatuated with Uncle Charlie, and is thus jealous when he seems to be consoling and maybe even seducing her emotionally vulnerable mother.
This does not exactly help what is already a problematic mother-daughter relationship, what with India coming of age and Evelyn coming undone.
But India also soon comes to suspect this admittedly attractive but nonetheless suspicious interloper of sociopathic behavior, especially when folks start disappearing — including her visiting aunt, played by Jacki Weaver — who acts as if she might know an unsavory thing or two about Uncle Charlie just before she vanishes.
India is well aware that she and Uncle Charlie are blood relations. She also senses that there may be a lot more in the way of blood on the way.
So much does this film (despite a title that is certainly a reference to Dracula author Bram Stoker, an acknowledged influence) self-consciously recall Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful Shadow of a Doubt that it even focuses on an impressionable niece/charming uncle relationship and an enigmatic villain called Uncle Charlie.
The director, an arresting visual stylist who doesn’t let you forget it, remains intrigued by the theme of revenge (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) as he sustains the tense Gothic mood.
But his trademark gift seems be the arresting way he has of making us see ordinary things in a new light and mundane behaviors in a freshly observed manner. Everything and everyone is ominous at one time or another, the feeling of dread is palpable throughout, and even the dreamy images eventually seem nightmarish.
The screenplay by actor Wentworth Miller (of TV’s “Prison Break”), his first, flirts with being a horror piece, a murder mystery, even a black comedy. But it’s the curious sights and sounds that accompany the eccentrically unfolding plot, and the moments of grotesque bloodshed, that keep us off-kilter.
Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) continues to impress as an amazingly skilled young leading lady, Kidman makes a solid character-actress contribution, and Goode is good enough.
But Stoker remains a film that, however well acted it may be, will test some viewers’ tolerance for the depraved. It will certainly not, however, bore.
So we’ll move in with 2½ stars out of 4 for a visually striking psychosexual thriller that’s also a macabre family melodrama and a warped coming-of-age tale in one.
A provoker, this Stoker is anything but mediocre, and couldn’t be any baroque-er.