Korean director Park Chan-wook, the warped mind responsible for the dangerously lurid Oldboy (currently being remade by Spike Lee), makes his English-language debut with Gothic thriller Stoker.
He’s toned down the violence and perversity of his Korean output. But not by much. When a character in Chan-wook’s first Hollywood outing commends a garden’s soil for its spade-yielding softness, you get the feeling he’s not planning to plant begonias.
The garden in question is the haunt of pale and solitary 18-year-old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) and the man sifting the soil is her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). India has been unaware of her uncle’s existence until he turns up on the day of her wealthy father’s funeral and is promptly invited to stay at the family’s secluded estate by India’s highly strung mother Evelyn (a brittle, nervy Nicole Kidman). With his tales of European travel, Charlie is a glamorous and charismatic figure. Evelyn is quickly won over. India is initially more wary.
As India wavers between suspicion and fascination, Chan-Wook heightens the air of dread and longing with lush, saturated colours, rapt close ups and a spine-chilling score (by Clint Mansell, with telling contributions by Philip Glass).
The film’s pace will be too languid for some tastes, its script (by Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller with nods to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt) too fanciful. But catch Stoker in the right mood and you’ll find it stylish, sensual and and deliciously unnerving.