As the opening credits of “Stoker” flow and falter, blow in with the breeze and materialize out of the smoke of extinguished birthday cake candles, it's clear that South Korean director Park Chan-wook's distinctive style isn't going to be lost in translation with his first English-language film.
To say the psychosexual thriller is more about style than story is in no way an insult: Park and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung adroitly use extreme camera angles, distorted focuses and an ever-shifting color palette to develop the film's substantial, slow-burning suspense.
He and his crew have an exquisite command of the movie's sound, too. In concert with the masterful score, the amplified cracking of an eggshell, the foreboding rasp of a pencil being sharpened and the heightened beat of a metronome lend an eerily atmospheric mood to actor Wentworth Miller's (the TV show “Prison Break”) conventionally Hitchcockian script.
Known for his shockingly violent cult favorites “The Vengeance Trilogy” — “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” “Oldboy” and “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” — Park even cannily uses the audience's expectations of his movies to build an almost intolerable sense of dread. It's no mystery that something rotten is happening inside the Stoker family's Southern gothic mansion, and film fans familiar with Park's repertoire will be braced for the worst until the end credits roll.
The cinematic mind-job also serves as another stellar showcase for Australian actress Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”) and Brit Matthew Goode (“Watchmen”), who have a creepily effective chemistry.