Stoker

Directed by Chan-wook Park. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney 18 cert, general release, 99 min

Directed by Chan-wook Park. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney 18 cert, general release, 99 min

Fri, Mar 1, 2013, 00:00

Directed by Chan-wook Park. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney 18 cert, general release, 99 min

Asian directors don’t always translate in the Hollywood system. Wong Kar-wai’s freewheeling brand of melancholia sounded woolly in the director’s Anglophone debut, My Blueberry Nights. Jee-woon Kim went from the high-fallutin’ Korean art of A Tale of Two Sisters to the low-fallutin’ Schwarzenegger sector with The Last Stand. John Woo retreated back to Hong Kong when Windtalkers and Paycheck failed to ignite the US box office.

Stoker, the first English-language film from OldBoy director Chan-wook Park, is a risky venture by this and by any reckoning. The screenplay from actor Wentworth Miller made the 2010 “black list” of top unproduced scripts in Hollywood, a slush pile that is just as likely to yield The Beaver as it is Juno. The cast features reverse box office magnet Nicole Kidman. The film is tricky to summarise and trickier to negotiate.

Stoker begins as Terrence Malick’s Twilight might, with a dreamy landscape and girlish voiceover. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is an outsider at school who, when her father (Dermot Mulroney) dies, is left alone with her distant mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Only an indecent amount of time has elapsed before Evelyn invites her husband’s brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) to stay. Secondary characters soon disappear. India notes the connection but is too intrigued by her long-lost uncle to stop watching him from the darkened corners of a house that’s as good as hermetically sealed.

We’re tempted to cry “vampire”. But the title and the trajectory are misnomers. There’s nothing supernatural about the Stokers; they’re just really messed up. India’s sexual awakening and burgeoning bloodlust – the two are interdependent – expands into a full-blown Oedipal fairytale, replete with incest, murder and Hitchcockian games.

This, however, only hints at the oddness of watching the picture.The director peppers the proceedings with discombobulating details such as the birthday shoe collection and a stupendous intertwining piano duet.

The actors, in turn, are excellent and otherworldly. And Chung Chung-hoon’s cinematography uses the sweltering Tennessee sunlight to make you believe that there’s no escaping this outsized dollhouse.

The results are exquisite, enigmatic and enrapturing, in the way a date with a preying mantis might be.

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