DIRECTOR: Park Chan-Wook
STARRING: Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode
This dark and sexy English-language debut from Korean director Park Chan-wook is set to divide opinion, but there is no escaping this film’s hypnotic allure.
Despite the title conjuring ties to Dracula or vampires, there is thankfully no such teenage neck-nibbling. Instead, we are treated to a potent and stealthy gothic tale reminiscent of Hitchcock’s 1943 thriller Shadow of a Doubt. Pensive brooding teenager India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is struck by the sudden loss of her father in a car accident. Her mysterious Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) arrives at the funeral, offering a helping hand to her and her shaken mother (Nicole Kidman). However, all is not as it seems with this new family member as a series of unsettling events first disturb, then entice India on a darker journey.
It is only after a good hour of creepy Hitchcockian symbolism hiding-in-plain-sight that the horror starts to ramp up. I couldn’t decide if all the obvious tropes and foreshadowing were brilliant, or simply too obvious to be praiseworthy, yet the bird-like stare of Matthew Goode and the ensuing dance between the three family members more than held my interest until things got suitably nasty.
The direction alone can be fantastic. At times Park beautifully ties together numerous locales and timespaces, seamlessly and coherently shifting his gaze whilst cohesively building to a deliciously horrifying climax. And yet, early on, he disappointingly had me wondering whether Uncle Charlie could magically teleport upstairs, thanks to some clumsy (or brilliant?) editing.
Similarly, India Stoker is tough to get your head round. As the film itself jokes, she is impenetrable and enthralling; her coldness will either draw you further in to her burgeoning darkness or leave you stranded outside wondering what on earth her deal is. Oftentimes, it’s both.
Regardless of the disagreements Stoker is bound to draw in oneself, it never ceases to drop your attention or release its ever-tightening grip on your chest. Not once does it cease to be interesting, each scene, camera angle and creepy stare clearly crafted for a reason. Whether this artfulness brings to life a thrilling and deeply disturbing tale, or clumsily flops like a bad valentine’s metaphor is something you may find hard to decide. Either way though, you’ll definitely want to see it again.