Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Jacki Weaver | Written by Wentworth Miller | Directed by Park Chan-Wook
Wealthy, privileged but unfortunately deceased Richard Stoker has left behind something of a strange legacy: a widow in the repressed but oddly sexual Evie; a fatherless daughter in India, a sharply intelligent and emotionally distant eighteen year-old; and Charlie, the newly-returned brother that neither of them knew Richard had. Over the course of the next few weeks, Charlie begins living in his brother’s old house and steadily becomes a larger part of the family he left behind. Something’s not right about Charlie, though any warnings about him the women are given fall on deaf ears.
And so begins Stoker, a psycho-sexual thriller by way of Lolita and high society, South Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s first foray into English-language filmmaking (and the first movie in which he doesn’t receive a writing credit, instead reserved, bizarrely, for Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller).
Cold, darkly comic, unnervingly romantic: these descriptions can be applied to most of Park Chan-Wook’s back catalogue. So can themes of broken families, revenge and the haunting nature of the past. He’s an auteur filmmaker, if you’re the kind of person who believes in auteurs. All those elements can just as easily be identified in Stoker, but this film stands apart because Park made it in English, set in the US and featuring western actors. It’s a movie about rich white folks, which is the broadest departure for Park, as his characters are most often working-class or institutionalised Koreans. What isn’t a departure, apart from the aforementioned, is his eye for interesting composition, fetish for textile patterns and striking blocking in action and high-tension sequences.
So why go see it if it’s just the same as all his other stuff? Well, it’s not. Despite all the similarities it’s still as compelling and unsettling and unexpected as anything else he’s done before. I won’t go into the story here, because that’s really not what this film is about, despite the usual thriller-y twists that aren’t actually particularly surprising – the film telegraphs its intentions fairly early on, with a sick sense of fatalism to proceedings. Stoker’s a film that relies much more on tone and feeling than other films with similar themes, and the potentially disappointing climax – were this an ordinary thriller about a murderer and the family he torments – is helped enormously by an unbiased approach from Park, along with sumptuous photography and an enigmatic central performance from Mia Wasikowska, not to mention Matthew Goode’s charmingly unhinged and occasionally oddly affecting portrayal of a man just discovering the family they never knew they were.
Stoker is released on DVD and Bu-ray on July 1st.