A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
One of my favorite films of 2013 so far, the chill-inducing coming-of-age mystery “Stoker” marks the twisted and triumphant English-language debut of esteemed South Korean director Park Chan-wook.
Written by actor Wentworth Miller (the TV show “Prison Break”), the psychosexual thriller pays homage to the 1943 Alfred Hitchcock classic “Shadow of a Doubt” — Matthew Goode’s creepy character is even named Uncle Charlie — but Park’s unique visual and aural style steeps the storytelling in an eerie elegance. From the ominous rasp of a pencil being sharpened to the portentous snuffing of the candles on a birthday cake, the director keenly crafts an edgily atmospheric mood.
Australian up-and-comer Mia Wasikowska stars as shy and sullen India Stoker, whose beloved father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney), dies in an accident on her 18th birthday. At the funeral, she is surprised when her father’s younger brother (Goode) shows up unannounced. India didn’t even know she had an Uncle Charlie.
India’s icy and unstable mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), claims that the long-lost relative is a world traveler who rarely stays put for more than a few days, but after the funeral, Charlie moves right into his dead brother’s Southern gothic mansion. Despite the protests of India’s anxious great-aunt (Jacki Weaver), the soft-spoken charmer is soon revamping the grounds, cooking fancy meals and cultivating an unsuitably snug relationship with his vain, newly widowed sister-in-law.
Charlie also draws unnervingly close to India, who is as enthralled by her newfound uncle as she is suspicious of him. Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”) and Goode (“Watchmen”) have an uncannily effective chemistry that makes the warped family drama work.
Although he occasionally overplays the symbolism, it’s Park, known for his violent cult favorite “The Vengeance Trilogy,” which includes the soon-to-be-Americanized “Oldboy,” who builds the substantial suspense, and with style.
Bonus material: An almost 30-minute making-of documentary, five short behind-the-scenes featurettes, three deleted scenes, two photo galleries, red carpet premiere footage, Emily Wells’ performance of her closing-credits theme “Becomes the Color” and a free download of the song.