When India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska) father dies, her mysterious uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) whom she previously never knew existed comes to stay with her and her mother (Nicole Kidman). While dealing with life without her loving father she starts to suspect Charlie may have other motives than just helping her family get over their loss.
South Korean director Park Chan-wook, who made the masterpiece Oldboy among others, here makes his transition to English language filmmaking. With a script penned by Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller, Stoker’s ambiguous, puzzling narrative and attitude to character may frustrate some.
But Park brings with him a stark, stylish approach that gives the film an unnerving air of anticipation, delivering an experience that’s brimming with explosive tension and a daring unpredictability of what’s around the next narrative corner. The wonderfully emotive score by Clint Mansell and picturesque cinematography by Park regular Chung Chung-hoon results in a film that is as beautiful as it is menacing.
The performances are uniformly fantastic, with Wasikowska utterly hypnotic as India who’s simultaneously drawn to and suspicious of Goode’s magnetic Charlie. Kidman is equally as compelling as India’s mother, doing her best to get through the family’s loss while captivated, as we are, by the new man of the house.
Though not quite as strange as some of his native Korean work like Thirst, I’m A Cyborg but That’s Okay and the aforementioned Oldboy, there’s still plenty of weirdness to be found in Park’s English-language debut. You might expect something altogether more violent but the film is peppered with shocking, grotesque moments rather than flooded with them and is all the more effective for it.
There’s a kind other-worldly quality to the film, like it’s set in darker version of reality and almost feels like a monster movie in disguise (the title subtly suggests vampires that never appear). Perhaps it’s that humans are the monsters, and the beauty of the film is you can read into it like that or just enjoy for its stylish flourishes, sense of dread or fantastic central performances. This is a supremely atmospheric and strikingly well-made concoction of family drama, mystery thriller and creeping horror.