Following the success of his Vengeance Trilogy, director Park Chan-Wook has been busy establishing himself on the global stage. First his vampire-lead thriller Thirst and now his English language debut comes in the form of psychological thriller Stoker.
Based on a 2010 Blacklist screenplay by Wentworth Miller, Stoker follows the life of teenager India (Mia Wasikowska). Quiet and reserved, India suffers tragedy when he father is killed in a car accident. Forced to interact with her glacial mother Evlyn (Nicole Kidman), further complications arise when she meets her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) who manages to get himself into the position of being the object of both mother and daughter’s affections.
For what is ostensibly a run-of-the-mill character-lead thriller Park Chan-Wook does an incredible job and making Stoker seem important and immediate in its actions. The attention to detail that he brought so famously to OldBoy is in full display and with such care he is able to elevate Stoker well beyond its somewhat predictable formula.
Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman bitch and snipe like the best of them, each one revealing their damaged characters in the process. While Matthew Goode gives the standout performance as the charismatic uncle who carefully and subtly bullies and cajoles both women with the expert talent of a master manipulator. All three central performers underpin all of the action with a series of convincing exchanges that continually peel back more and more layers of deceit and falsity until all that is left is the bare-bones of each psyche. At this stage none of them are particular appealing, but all of them are absorbing and fascinating to observe.
Littered with sly wit and a darkly black humour, Park Chan-Wook is able to bring his unique, twisted themes straight from the Vengeance Trilogy into the mainstream English-language arena. Stoker‘s script is pitched perfectly, balancing the slow reveals with just enough acidic bite to keep it on the right side of pastiche, while the central trio bring the goods when it really needs it. The very final act is somewhat overblown, but further highlights just how mischievous and manic Park Chan-wook can be, and frankly it’s nice to see that he wasn’t lost his pace as he makes the transition from the art house to the big leagues.