(MA, 99 minutes.) Opens Thursday.
Lauded at home for his immaculate yet brutal horrors, South Korea's Chan-wook Park opts to channel the more sophisticated airs of Alfred Hitchcock for this, his English-language feature debut.
Stoker - trailer
After India's father dies, her Uncle Charlie, who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother. She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.
Working off an impressive script from actor Wentworth Miller (who initially penned it under the pseudonym Ted Foulke to avoid industry prejudice), Chan-wook and his regular director of photography, Chung-hoon Chung, keep us riveted throughout, trapped within the confines of the large, stately home in which lonely widow Evie (Nicole Kidman) and her gothic 18-year-old daughter, India (Mia Wasikowska), reside following the untimely passing of Evie's husband (Dermot Mulroney).
At the funeral, Evie's brother-in-law, Charlie (Matthew Goode), suddenly appears. Evie enjoys the attention, with flirting aplenty. A sullen, withdrawn India suspects there is something not quite right about her new-found uncle. Only Gwendolyn (Jacki Weaver) appears to know the truth - or does she? Nothing is quite as it seems: there are fantasy sequences that blur reality with fantasy.
Goode, looking perfectly splendid in various designer threads, proves a wonderfully menacing presence throughout, both for Evie (Kidman is also on top form) and India (easily Wasikowska's finest onscreen turn yet). It is the absolute antithesis of the vulnerable, troubled character Goode played to great effect in Jonathan Teplitzky's Burning Man.
The nods to Hitchcock - specifically Shadow of a Doubt - are laid out unashamedly for all to see. There is a sense of claustrophobia within the house itself. Both films share a seedy, malevolent figure in the form of one Uncle Charlie. Joseph Cotten, though, would surely tip his hat in Goode's direction, for the latter is even more terrifying than his predecessor, with an unhinged nature that's almost impossible to pin down.
Curiously, Colin Firth, Jodie Foster and Carey Mulligan were at different stages all attached to the film, which Chan-wook directed using an interpreter. I'm not sure it would have radically altered the tone of the film had one or all of them signed on, but I'm very glad they didn't. Chan-wook's cast - effectively all Aussies with an English import who is popular on our shores - work incredibly well with the material. Wasikowska, especially, rises to the challenge, giving us a far darker persona than we've seen from her before (which is saying something). The results are superb.