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by Jay Seaver

"Park Chan-wook makes it to America unscathed."
5 stars

With any luck, a fair number of the people seeing "Stoker" will do so without already being fans of director Park Chan-wook, drawn in by the nifty cast and striking previews. They're in for a treat, because Park has crossed the Pacific without losing any of what made him a big deal in South Korea, which means that not only is this movie a chilly thrill unlike most anything else in theaters right now, but there's half a dozen other good to great movies like it for them to discover.

India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) lost her father on her eighteenth birthday, and being a somewhat odd girl to begin with, the funeral is a special kind of torture, especially since it seems to highlight the differences in temperament between her and her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). As strange as the whole thing seems, the arrival of her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) makes it even more unsettling: For as much as Evelyn quickly hooks onto him as a younger, more attentive version of the husband from whom she drifted apart, nobody ever told India about him, and neither longtime housekeeper Mrs. McGarrick (Phyllis Somerville) nor great-aunt Gwendylon (Jacki Weaver) seems particularly happy to see him return from his travels.

Much of the first act of Stoker takes place at the large family home and its grounds, and what Park and his cohorts do with that location is kind of clever: It feels expensive and tony and until someone mentions their cellular telephone, it could be any time within the past fifty years there, with some things like India's wardrobe and the live-in help almost seeming deliberately anachronistic. Park and his design team (who really should be remembered next awards season) create a perfect, spotless upper-class New England environment - even tubs of ice cream have an idealized look to them - before visually pointing out that there are dark passages underneath or showing India in a normal public school and letting the audience chew on that juxtaposition.

The casting at times almost seems like part of the design work at times. Nicole Kidman is spot-on as the posh Evelyn, displaying the impatience and disdain in the most polite way possible, occasionally icy but with a weird innocence to her. Matthew Goode makes Charlie creepy by just standing there, and there's a fun self-awareness to how he delivers his lines - not so much that he's read the script, but that Charlie knows what he is and knows how to quietly leverage that depending on how aware the person he's talking to is. It's just the right blend of obvious and hidden weirdness, skewed just enough to match Park's heightened environment. It's a perfect opposite to Mia Wasikowska, whose India is plainly eccentric from the start, even if the reasons why aren't quite obvious. There's toughness and timidity at war within her.

And though we don't see him clearly until flashbacks toward the end, Dermot Mulroney is quite impressive as the late Richard Stoker - Park and writer Wentworth Miller have laid out hints of who and what Richard needed to be, and Mulroney not only hits that on the head, he quickly lets the audience see the character as an individual rather than a plot necessity. For a movie that necessarily reveals its secrets very slowly, it does a good job of not testing the audience's patience, even when playing with ambiguities and unreliable "narrators".

Park also brings a lot of style to the movie along with obsessive design sense. Chung Chung-hoon, who has been shooting Park's movies since Oldboy, joins him, and they capture a beautiful film, with colors alternately lush and chilly. The camera zips around eagerly, but not frantically, sometimes in a way that leads the viewer to expect one trick only to be thrown when it doesn't happen. Characters disappear and reappear like ghosts, keeping the audience constantly aware of what's just out of view.

"Stoker" is seldom conventional; it's always a little bit creepier, bigger, and slicker than it might be. It's perfect material for Park, but like a lot of his movies, it's not for everyone. For his fans - and those who may soon become such - that's a very good thing indeed.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24072&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/04/13 22:15:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/18/16 Alexis H A beautful symphony of emotion and psychology 4 stars
9/07/13 mr.mike Decent home vid rental. 3 stars
6/18/13 Pierre Mosbey Loved. Art House Thriller at its finest. 4 stars
6/07/13 Langano Devilish beauty 4 stars
4/16/13 Marlon Wallace Director Park has put together what is arguably the most beautiful, horror film I've seen. 3 stars
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  01-Mar-2013 (R)
  DVD: 18-Jun-2013


  DVD: 18-Jun-2013

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