Hot on the heels of director Kim Jee-woon’s Hollywood debut (The Last Stand) comes another critically acclaimed Korean director staking his claim Stateside. Chan-wook Park premiered his Stoker at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and I couldn’t be happier to have been one of the first people to see it. Being a fan of Park’s since I saw Oldboy and Three… Extremes during the 2005 festival, it makes sense that he’d return with his splashy Hollywood debut. Having a cast consisting of Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Jackie Weaver, and Matthew Goode, certainly helps too, not to mention the surprisingly killer screenplay updating Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt courtesy of Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller.
It’s India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska) 18th birthday when her father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney), dies in a car accident. During the funeral, India spots a far off figure, hearing him tell her that he’ll see her soon. India has incredibly sharp senses allowing her to hear things which others cannot. Her mother Evie (Nicole Kidman) welcomes this strange fellow into their home as India’s Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), her father Richard’s brother. She’s never heard of her Uncle Charlie before and it quickly turns out that could be for good reason. After Aunt Gin (Jackie Weaver) comes to discuss their living arrangements with Uncle Charlie and trying to get a private word in with India she disappears along with the housekeeper, Mrs. McGarrick (Phyllis Somerville). It soon becomes all too clear that Uncle Charlie has plenty of skeletons in the family closet to go along with his ulterior motives for showing up to spend quality time with India.
The first thing you should really know about Stoker’s plot, is nothing more. To spoil the surprises would ruin all the fun. Director Park brings everything we love about his films to the table here. His use of sound, along with his delirious and almost hypnotic scene transitions, help make this one of the most stylish thrillers in years. The trailer does make it look more like a horror movie than it is, but that’s not to say nothing horrific happens. There is some messed up stuff abound. Kidman delivers as always and Wasikowska really steps up to the plate for what Miller’s screenplay puts her character through. Don’t miss the beginning of the film or it will make the ending seem a little lackluster and won’t really mean anything either. During the Q&A after the film, someone asked Park how it felt to have outdone Hitchcock himself. Park was most gracious for the compliment but denied his film being that good. I think if you take it on the terms of remaking Shadow of a Doubt, then yes, Park is at least on the same level here and I’m now dying to see him turned loose.