By: Heather Seebach
The Koreans are invading! No, not Kim Jong-un! The three greatest Korean filmmakers of today are making their English-language debuts this year. Jee-woon Kim (I Saw the Devil) helmed the Arnold Schwarzenegger comeback vehicle, The Last Stand, while Joon-ho Bong (The Host) brings us Snowpiercer later this year. But perhaps most exciting of all is Stoker, the American debut of Chan-wook Park, director of the much-loved Vengeance Trilogy.
Stoker is a twisted coming-of-age tale about 18-year-old India (Mia Wasikowska). She lives a lonely existence with her frigid mother (Nicole Kidman) in the countryside. After her father dies in a horrible car crash, India's estranged uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) suddenly inserts himself into her life. Despite unsettling observations, India and her mother become infatuated with the handsome stranger.
The story is familiar and not very surprising, but where it lacks in ingenuity it makes up in fascinating characters and Hitchcockian suspense. The script is the screenplay debut of Wentworth Miller, the model/actor who starred on Prison Break. Yes, you read that correctly. In 2010, this script made the Black List of the 10 best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. Fortunately, it was picked up and found a director with the dark sensibilities to complement it.
Park brought along his go-to cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung and together they have crafted another piece of unique, gorgeous art. This time around, Park toys with a lot of slow-motion, zooms, and pausing. Sometimes it is a bit overwhelming and distracting, but it does create a disjointed effect that helps the film build like a horror movie, or a hazy nightmare.
All three lead actors are fantastic, as is Jacki Weaver who plays a small role. The film is a bit slow to build, but once the mysteries begin to unravel, it's hard to take your eyes off the screen. Like Park's other films, it is equal parts disturbing and darkly funny. It also boasts a great soundtrack that includes tracks by composer Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream).
In addition to being the last name of the film's dysfunctional family, Stoker also refers to the seductive qualities of Charlie that resemble Bram's famous vampire, or to the person or machine that fuels a furnace's fire. Both are fitting interpretations for this film about youth, desire, and dark urges. Stoker will not easily be embraced by mainstream America but fans of Park's work should be sated.