Stoker (Fox) – Hollywood is always drafting new talent from abroad, especially from thriving cinema cultures. From Mexico, we received an injection of new blood thanks to Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cauron, and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Back in the nineties, it was the Hong Kong action stars on both sides of the camera, from Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-fat to John Woo and Corey Yuen.
For the past few years, South Korea has been leading the Asian wave of hit action movies, horror films, and thrillers and Hollywood has once again taken notice. 2013 marks the respective American debuts of three top South Korean directors: Kim Jee-woon (The Good, the Bad, the Weird, I Saw the Devil), who made the Arnold Schwarzenegger come-back film The Last Stand (released earlier this year on disc and reviewed here); Bong Joon-ho (The Host), whose end-of-the-world thriller Snowpiercer is due for release later this year; and Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Thirst), director of Stoker, a film that doesn’t fit within the usual genre parameters.
I like to think of Stoker as a vampire movie without a vampire. At least not in the mythic sense of the term. Mia Wasikowska is dreamy and uneasy as India Stoker, a teenage girl who is preternaturally attuned to the world and disconnected from the kids around her. Matthew Goode is creepily calm and seductive as the uncle she never even knew existed until he arrives for a funeral and stays on in the family manor (he is her Uncle Charlie, in fact, an offhanded reference to Hitchcock’s take on another dark uncle-niece relationship). Nicole Kidman is dizzy and disconnected as her weak and ineffectual mother. She seems to want to be there for her daughter, but she hardly seems present in the world at all.
Park sculpts the film, directed from an original script by Wentworth Miller, beautifully. We see the world through the heightened senses of India as she works through the loss of her father while attempting to measure this smiling, hypnotic uncle who has drifted into her life. He presents himself as her dark guardian angel, attempting to seduce India with his confidence, his power, and his violence (he seduction of the mother is more literal), but she has a more savvy understanding of the depths of his darkness.