Directed by Park Chan-wook
Best known as the orchestrator of last decade’s sick, slick Vengeance Trilogy, Korean director Park transplants his brand of body horror to a stateside milieu in this engagingly unstable bloodlines thriller.Working from a script by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, Park sets us down on the sprawling grounds of the Stoker family manse, where the most modern appliance appears to be the cellar icebox. Her beloved father having just died in a mysterious car accident, creepy teen India (Mia Wasikowska) enters a period of mourning—promptly upended when long-lost Uncle Charlie, played by a marvelously blank Matthew Goode, announces he’ll be staying on at the Stoker home following his brother’s funeral.
An ostensible man of the world with a ramrod posture, Charlie first appears to have designs on India’s mother (Nicole Kidman), but soon he also has initially hostile India quaking in her saddle oxfords. Said to look like his late brother, only a decade younger and more devilishly handsome, Charlie’s presence ratchets up the house’s reverse-Oedipal tension, and forces India to explore the cobwebbier corners of her family legacy—it soon emerges that Charlie has a penchant for strangling people with his belt.
And yet the film’s most shocking moment comes when we learn that this isn’t taking place at some indeterminate point in the past: at the dinner table Charlie suddenly mentions that India was born in 1994; the next scene takes us outside the home to her present-day high school, where she is tormented by goons in letter jackets, a beautiful outcast in the Carrie mold. Not unlike another recent English-language debut, Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be the Place—in which a world-famous goth embarks upon an incidental tour of USA diners, drive-ins, and dives—Stoker delights in the headlong collision of disparate American idioms. Here, we get a hothouse mystery by way of something like the gothic trance-state of Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables, gilded around the edges with knowingly flat roadside scenes (one character returns a cell phone to another at a motel phone booth; India meets a boy named Whip in the parking lot of a neon-lighted diner called Rockets). Park’s tonal switchbacks are violent—all the better to describe the protagonist’s very crooked path to adulthood.
Opens March 1