Rare is the international auteur who survives the move to Hollywood – or even Hollywood-size budgets – with his artistic personality intact. So let’s hear it for Oldboy director Park Chan-wook: His English-language debut, Stoker, is nearly as nasty and unhinged as his South Korean work. Apparently unstifled by the suits paying the bills, the filmmaker weaves a grim domestic fairy tale about a recent widow (Nicole Kidman) and her taciturn teenage daughter (Mia Wasikowska), both of whom fall under the spell of their dead patriarch’s mysterious, estranged brother (Matthew Goode). It’s clear almost immediately that this husk of a plot, dreamt up by actor-turned-screenwriter Wentworth Miller, is just a pretext for virtuoso showmanship. No passage of the story is so mundane that it can’t be spruced up with extreme angles, fevered montage, splashes of giallo color, spinning camerawork or some other trick in Park’s repertoire. You may be dazzled or exasperated by this flurry of stylistic excess. You probably won’t be bored.
Thin as it is, Stoker’s twisty narrative provides the cast with room to play. Goode offers a creepy (if one-note) expression of seductive menace, while Wasikowska’s quivers of perverse desire provide the film a black-comic charge. (Kidman, in a surprisingly marginal role, has less to do.) If rumours the film would be a Shadow of a Doubt remake prove exaggerated – only the appearance of a shady uncle counts as a callback – Hitchcock’s influence can be felt. The Master, after all, wasn’t above spectacularly showing off. And Park, like Hitch, has gone abroad without sacrificing his identity, even if Stoker is no Rebecca.