Sundance Journal: ‘Stoker’

Was there any doubt that Korean director Park Chan-wook would create a stunningly attractive yet creepy movie for his first English language picture? No. Was I expecting as much of a Hitchcock homage that I got? Most certainly not. But it’s there. ‘Stoker’ is a beautifully bloodied version of Hitchcock’s ‘Shadow of a Doubt‘.

Park swears that he didn’t intend any Hitchcock references in ‘Stoker’. Perhaps he didn’t. Maybe the references were embedded in the script, written by Wentworth Miller of ‘Prison Break’. The screenplay was already completed before Park became attached to direct the movie. However, there’s no mistaking the striking similarities between ‘Stoker’ and ‘Shadow of a Doubt’.

Right from the start, we know that this is going to be a visual feast. Even the opening credits are playful and mysterious as they appear integrated with the environment. The credits set you up for one of the most astoundingly visual movies you’ll see all year.

The movie begins with a family in mourning. The Stoker family has just lost the head of the household. They’re a rich family who live out in the country on a large estate. Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) is the mother. Her daughter, India (Mia Wasikowska) has become a withdrawn introvert since her father passed away in a tragic accident.

Not soon after the untimely death, Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to stay with the family. This is where we soon draw parallels to ‘Shadow of a Doubt’. (Both characters are called Charlie, for starters.) Charlie is handsome and persuasive. India is enamored by him. He’s mysterious and aloof. She’s inexplicably drawn to him. Yet, there’s something not quite right about his face. He looks too nice – so nice that it’s almost creepy.

I fear that I may give too much away if I talk about the plot further. Park has created a visually stunning film with so many nuances that it’ll take multiple viewings to soak everything in. The way he builds tension is downright Hitchcockian. He uses odd camera angles and a carefully constructed soundscape to suck you into his world.

‘Stoker’ is a movie that you’ll have to experience on your own. It’s every bit as thrilling as it is stunningly gorgeous. Park knows how to shoot a movie and he pulls out all the stops here. The blending of practical effects and CGI create a flawless, altogether original feel. Since the film will be released to theaters in the near future, make a point to see it. You won’t be disappointed.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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