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Stoker - Review


Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

BEAUTIFUL to look at and utterly beguiling, Stoker is a thoroughly entertaining and often unsettling exercise in toying with expectation.

Written by Wentworth Miller (formerly of Prison Break fame) and marking the English language debut of Oldboy director Park Chan-Wook, the film seldom does what you think it’s going to do and is all the more intriguing for it.

Indeed, from its playful name alone, which suggests yet another vampire yarn based around the works of Bram Stoker, right down to its twisted climax, this is a slow-burning exercise in original, adult filmmaking that deserves to be seen.

India (Mia Wasikowska) is an outsider whose 18th birthday coincides with the mysterious death of her father (Dermot Mulroney) and the sudden arrival of a charismatic uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) with a penchant for world travel.

Her mother (Nicole Kidman), meanwhile, remains a distant, often self-obsessed presence who displays little time or affection for her. But as Charlie edges closer and closer to the family, India begins to realise that not everyone is as they seem.

Early on, Park’s film creates an almost ethereal existence for its characters that draws heavily on the slow pacing of many Korean films, as well as an eerie sense of impending danger reminiscent of Hitchcock (Park drew inspiration from the likes of Psycho and Shadow of a Doubt).

But like India herself, viewers are never certain where the biggest threat lies given the way the director plays with perception.

Hence, while proceedings sometimes slow to almost pedestrian pace at times, there’s that lingering menace that helps to keep you hooked, which is augmented by the gradual erosion of innocence.

Park, for his part, has a lot of fun with this, never more so than during a virtuoso piano sequence involving Goode and Wasikowska that is creepy, sexually provocative and ambiguous all at the same time… and one of the film’s show-stopping moments.

The cast excel too. Wasikowska is a beguiling presence, whose own coming-of-age is realised in a manner that combines the naive and dream-like with something a little more edgier, while Kidman is great as her distant mum.

Goode, though, is superb as the malevolent Uncle Charlie, combining outward charisma and sparkling good looks with something sinister, possibly supernatural and probably sociopathic. Watching him peel away the layers and affect the lives of those around him is another of the film’s many treats.

Put together, this is a highly intelligent piece of work that rewards patient viewers, and which marks the arrival of one of Korea’s most prodigious talents in America in emphatic fashion.

Stoker looks destined to become a cult classic… it’s brilliance perhaps only properly realised over the course of time.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 98mins
UK Release Date: March 1, 2013