There's a risk every time a noted foreign filmmaker takes a stab at an English-language movie. Clearly, Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook ("Old Boy") knows his Hollywood history: he admits that Alfred Hitchcock not only inspired him to become a filmmaker but that "Psycho," "Shadow of a Doubt," and "The Trouble With Harry" creeped into archetypal thriller "Stoker," which is based on actor-writer Wentworth Miller's script.
Park chose his project cannily: "Stoker" is a simple, straightforwardly universal gothic fable that will play across many cultures. In his introduction in Park City Sunday, Park actually called this coming-of-age story a "fairy tale." Visually and aurally, in terms of the music, sound design and editing, the movie is gorgeous. But some of the iconography is too on-the-nose: saddle shoes, spike heels, insects etc.
The actors do their best with the material, especially Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska, who suddenly lose their husband and father (Dermot Mulroney) in a car accident and are both attracted to a mysterious Uncle (Matthew Goode) who materializes soon after their husband/father dies. But they don't have much to work with. The plot is all-too predictable.
It's tempting to wonder what the film would have been like with Colin Firth in the Uncle played by Goode, who makes a sexy but cardboard villain. He might have brought some depth; he may have figured out why he didn't want to do the role.
Fox Searchlight may be able to sell this high-end horror feature on its top flight elements, but I worry that's it's a 'tweener–not smart-house and not mainstream genre either. Critics may not be kind. See a Sundance sampling below.
Park Chan-Wook leaves the expected streaks of blood across American screens in Stoker, his English-language debut about a young woman whose coming of age takes place among the corpses of family members and neighbors. Fans who have followed the Korean auteur since 2003's Oldboy will not be disappointed, but a high creep-out factor and top-drawer cast should attract genre fans who've never heard of him as well.
South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook's filmmaking always dances a fine line between sublime and absurd genre ingredients. "Stoker," his first American-set, English language picture, is no exception. It's tempting to resist describing the movie in terms of the cinematic traditions it calls to mind: Alfred Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" meets "Heathers," Park's creepy tale of a peculiar family wrapped up in murderous antics continues the twisted pleasures that define the director's filmography.
I first noticed Mia Wasikowska's work when she appeared on "In Treatment," and the performance she gave on that show convinced me that she is a powerhouse, someone of uncommon natural talent. Like any actor, she's only as good as the roles she's given, and since "In Treatment," she hasn't had the best run of material. "Stoker" is thin in some ways, but taken almost as an expression of her character's inner life, it is often very compelling. She is very good playing off of Matthew Goode, who is well-cast as Uncle Charlie. There is something corrupt about Goode's good looks, something crazy just under the surface. It worked for him when he played Ozymandias in "Watchmen," and he rips into his character here with a dedication that is impressive.
Kidman is less well-treated by the material and she seems somewhat stranded in the role.