Review originally published on January 24, 2013 as part of Film.com's coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Hollywood has a habit of importing distinctive foreign filmmakers and fitting them into a depressingly generic mold. (Case in point: this January's "The Last Stand," which was directed by Kim Jee-woon with only a fraction of the flair that he brought to "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" and "I Saw the Devil.") Occasionally, these talents buck the trend and actually manage to liven up the industry's output instead, as is the case with Paul Verhoeven, John Woo, Michel Gondry and now Park Chan-wook, making his English-language debut with the commendably kooky "Stoker."
18-year-old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is mourning the loss of her father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney), in a tragic car accident when the uncle she never knew about, Charlie (Matthew Goode), arrives at the funeral. Eventually, her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), invites him to stay in their ornate Connecticut home, with the meek teen only becoming increasingly curious about the circumstances that have brought him to their door.
Working from the first produced screenplay of "Prison Break" star Wentworth Miller, Park allows this macabre coming-of-age tale to be defined by mood and style above all else. Between the florid dialogue, gallows humor, all manner of sexual suggestion, Clint Mansell's suitably peculiar score and another eye-catching collaboration with cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon, the world of "Stoker" is one of thoroughly, giddily heightened expression and tension. Only God knows how a Park Chan-wook take on "Dark Shadows" might have turned out, but this gives us a good idea, all big belts and small shoes and very mean men.
What's more is that the cast is entirely game to bring this bloody, very nearly silly soap opera to life. Wasikowska's gothic demeanor should replace Winona Ryder's Lydia from "Beetlejuice" as the new ideal for brooding teens everywhere, and as her character is defined by retaliations and revelations, the complexity of her hunter/hunted relationship with the pretty, predatory Goode is fascinating to behold. As someone even more susceptible to Charlie's charms, the increasingly bold Kidman deftly proceeds from grief to generosity, from swooning to suspicion, and Jacki Weaver gets in a handful of good scenes as an especially unwanted aunt.
"Stoker" cannot quite rival the definitive audacity of Park's "Oldboy" or overall thematic ambition of his "Vengeance" trilogy, but the result is a nervy, pervy Hitchcock riff in its own right. If the man plans on sticking around after this to help make American films just a little bit stranger, then more power to him.