Dir: Chan-Wook Park, US, 2012, 98 mins
Review by Marianne Gray
South Korean director Chan-wook Park’s Stoker is a moody gothic art film which fits into an elegant horror hybrid mold. Nicole Kidman plays the emotionally unstable mother of the friendless India (Mia Wasikowska), and Matthew Goode, cast against type, is the smooth as silk, creepily charming Uncle Charlie, her late father’s brother. Once you’ve got to grips with the characters and their odd world of style and comfortable wealth, there is plenty to concentrate on and to watch, often uneasily.
The story starts with the death of India’s father, Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney), which happens on the girl’s 18th birthday. India is already a confused teenager and is drawn to her uncle, who arrives unannounced, and who she thinks looks like her father. The two of them develop an interesting but unappealing chemistry as their relationship grows while she travels her route to self-discovery. India’s mother’s behaviour is very distant and unpredictable, so, inevitably, Uncle Charlie becomes the adult leading her down various paths. Part of the tension in the film arises from whether she will follow the appropriate paths, or become as emotionally unpredictable as her older relatives. Or will her mother, who’s been building up increasing jealousy of her daughter’s relationship with her brother-in-law, snuff out the light at the end of the tunnel?
The film is not an easy ride. You’ve got to pay attention right from the start. The film looks amazing and is edited seamlessly. Director Park is a genius for detail. It is his first film in English – he doesn’t speak English, and works through a translator – and although he bears the title Mr Vengeance because of previous films Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, he has here made a meticulous arty chiller that fits interestingly and awkwardly into the tradition of serious American film-making.