Friday, March 22, 2013

Korean Director Makes American Debut with "Stoker"


“Stoker” Creepy Korean-American Thriller

By Skip Sheffield

South Korea has gone from ruins to world power in my lifetime. In addition to its manufacturing production of everything from automobiles to electronics, Korea has been producing world-class artists in music, theater and film.
Park Chan-wook is one such artist, and “Stoker” is his first English-language film.
Be forewarned that Chan-wook is known as a “master of bloodshed.” His films are known for visual elegance tempered with melodrama and extreme violence.
“Stoker” has all three elements.
India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is a lonely, just-turned 18-year-old girl in a great big house. Her best friend was her father, Richard Stoker (Delmot Mulroney), but he has just been killed in a fiery car crash. India is shunned at high school and considered a weirdo.
“My ears hear what other ears cannot hear,” she says mournfully.
India’s mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) is in a dazed, distracted state when she introduces India to Charles Stoker (Matthew Goode), her father’s long-lost younger brother. Charles is a good-looking, charming guy who is full of tales of his extensive world travels. Despite being so recently widowed, Evelyn takes an interest in Charles. So does India.
There is a deep, dark secret in the Stoker family, and it affects and infects everyone. First the family’s housekeeper (Phyllis Somerville) vanishes. Then a nosy relative (Jackie Weaver) also goes missing. Meanwhile Charles has been getting far too cozy with Evelyn, prompting jealousy in her daughter.
“Stoker” is a profoundly creepy film with an ever-building sense of dread as family secrets (and blood) are spilled. The unraveling is done with extraordinary, beautiful visual imagery: splattered blood that morphs into red flowers; India’s seeming fetish with her saddle shoes and the stuffed, mounted trophies from the sharp-shooting she did with her father.
All this symbolic foreboding erupts into unspeakable acts that are clearly meant to shock.
As so often happens in horror-shockers, the plot twists become so extreme and grotesque any semblance to the real world dissolves.
The best thing about “Stoker” is its young leading lady, Mia Wasikowska. Wasikowska has an other-worldly quality that suited her well in “Jane Eyre” and Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” and is perfect for the deeply disturbed, possibly dangerous India.
Matthew Goode’s sunny yet sinister smile is most appropriate as well. Nicole Kidman seems more a cipher, but maybe that is just as well for a mother who has lost any control over her daughter or her own life.
“Stoker” is no masterpiece, but it does produce some disturbing chills.