Stoker is the first English language offering from Korean director Chan wook-Park, who is perhaps best known for the brilliant and thrillingly distasteful Oldboy. Despite the deliberate allusion to Bram Stoker, this is not a film about vampires, but there are nevertheless parallels to that classic story in this intelligent, gripping and twisted slice of horror. Those who prefer scantily clad girls being chased by maniacs with chainsaws need not apply.
The plot is essentially a very, very warped variation on Hitchcock’s classic Shadow of a Doubt. Following the death of her father, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) and her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) allow their enigmatic Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) to stay with them for a time. India becomes suspicious of Charlie since he is such an unknown quantity, whilst Eveyln seems oblivious to his increasingly creepy and suspicious behaviour. Gradually they both develop an infatuation with him, which escalates into all manner of disturbing shenanigans.
Chan wook-Park’s compositions are always interesting, especially in one transition where a close shot of Nicole Kidman’s hair elegantly morphs into an overhead shot of a field of long grass. However, the entire film is dripping with Freudian clichés with everything from wine to shoes taking on thuddingly obvious symbolism. Spiders crawl up legs, and trips into a dark, cold cellar to put items in the freezer become clear metaphors for various subconscious sexual desires. On the other hand, the film oozes with menace and these clichés are arguably well deployed. Roman Polanski’s Repulsion is another touchstone for the film, especially given India’s phobia of physical contact.
Obviously Stoker is not for the faint of heart. Whilst it is generally restrained and subtle, there are still enough splashes of shocking bloody violence, swearing and disturbing sexual undertones to warrant warnings for those likely to be offended. On a spiritual level this isn’t great either, as the inherent message seems to be none of us are responsible for our actions, because we can’t help who we are. To be fair, there are perhaps elements of generational curses and other Biblical themes that can be read into this, but that’s a bit of a stretch.
All that said Stoker is well put together with fine performances and good direction. Not one for those craving obvious, jump-out-of-your-skin, he’s-behind-you scares, but one for those who enjoy brainy, psychological horror.