REVIEW: 'Stoker' drips with dread in long, slow creep up on viewers
How you feel about “Stoker” will depend largely upon your capacity for, and enjoyment of, creeping dread.
Because Korean director Chan-wook Park's first English-language movie is drenched in it, from the first images to the last. Almost all of those images are beautiful, in an unsettling sort of way. The close-up nature shots are a little too close, the colors a little too rich, the spider scurrying up a girl's leg ... well, just kind of weird, really.
And Matthew Goode's handsome smile? That's especially disturbing.
It's a thick atmosphere Park creates, from seemingly small details, and it gives little away to say that he will eventually deliver on what he promises. If it's horror you want, it's horror you get.
The film follows India (Mia Wasikowska), a high-school girl whose father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney), is killed in a car accident on her 18th birthday. India, who enjoyed hunting trips with her father, among other pursuits, is devastated. Her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), seemingly is not.
At the funeral, a man Mia has never heard of shows up. Her mother introduces him as Uncle Charlie (Goode). (Allusions to Alfred Hitchcock's “Shadow of a Doubt” are presumably intentional.)
Charlie plans to stay for a while and immediately upsets the family dynamic. He's a little too cozy with Evelyn for Mia's taste (and for the gossips in town). Yet, Mia also finds herself drawn to him. He is one of those people who seem preternaturally prepared for any situation, who never lose their cool.
A film like “Stoker” is certainly not for everyone, with its dark themes and disturbing vibe. But there is something immensely rewarding about being in the hands of a director whose confidence is such that he can lead us to uncomfortable places and we'll go along for the ride, just to see where it leads.
Bill Goodykoontz is a movie critic for The Arizona Republic.