You might assume that Park Chan-wook's first English language film may something to do with Dracula, based off the title and that his feature delved into the vampiric, but it doesn't (although I wouldn't be surprised if the name "Stoker" was chosen because of what it conjures: macabre, morbid, gothic, dark, etc.). Instead, it's a psycho-sexual update on Hitch's terrific Shadow of a Doubt. I'm not too familiar with Park's infamous Korean films, but from what I understand he excels at visual style, dark storytelling and punishing violence. To that end, Stoker's violence and depravity seem a little toned down and less over the top in comparison.
The film focuses on the titular family of India, Evelyn, and Richard Stoker (Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and Dermot Mulroney). When Richard dies in a mysterious car crash, his oddball daughter India begins to further distance herself from her estranged mother, Evelyn. After burying their patriarch, the family is visited by India's Uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode, in hands down the best performance of his career). Charlie seems a little out there, and begins to form a sketchy relationship with India that suggests Uncle Charlie may desire more than family bonding.
To elaborate any more would spoil the film, but needless to say it's an interesting premise. The story unfolds very slowly, with few dramatic developments until deep into the second act, which contains much more wizz-bang than the somber and meticulously paced beginning. This isn't a bad thing at all, largely because the characters are so fascinating from the get-go that accompanying them while they go about their day to day lives is a pleasure. Even when the movie seems to be resting on its laurels early on, the performances are great all around (Goode, as previously mentioned, but also Wasikowska's performance as distant and on-edge India).
The lynchpin, though, is Park's direction. From the opening scene of fragmented shots with computer generated transitions that occur throughout the movie, Stoker drips with style, but thankfully not at the expense of substance, thanks Wentworth Miller's script (yep, the Prison Break guy) that tackles the deconstruction of the American family dynamic through the lens of a dark coming of age story. This film never has an ugly moment, and each shot oozes with creative shot compositions and visual flair. My personal favorite is an early scene in a basement involving a swinging light fixture (think Once upon a time in the West). The atmosphere, also, is well sustained throughout. Hopefully this is the start of what will be a long English language career for Park Chan-wook.
We're long overdue for a critique of the "Me Generation" -- who are generally aimless, entitled and value being cool above anything else. Spring Breakers is an effective satirical, hedonistic fever dream, but considering who was at the helm, I couldn't help but wish the film would have gone further with its indictment.