Creepy energies hover over the slow-brew suspense film Stoker, starting at the beginning, when the tale’s driving question first poses itself: Just who is this surreal, oily, handsome uncle Charlie, where did he come from, and what chips will fall as a result of his actions by film’s end? In the twisted family-triangle premise of the story, vaguely in the realm of campy classics like The Stepfather, the uncle in question (Matthew Goode) moves into a large, potentially haunted house after the death of his brother. He lurks around and insinuates himself into the lives of the house’s occupants, the owl-eyed teenage daughter, India (Mia Wasikowska, ideal with her vacant intensity), and the widow, played by the detached Nicole Kidman, brilliantly tapping into the sensual zombie vibe of her Eyes Wide Shut role.
In general, what makes this dark family saga more art and Hitchcockian than B-movie pulp has to do with the way director Park Chan-wook — the South Korean cult hero making his first English-language film — keeps his cool in impressively, distinctively stylized ways, and even poeticizes the moments of ultra-violence. He understands that blood splashed in slo-mo on white blossoms goes down more artfully on the senses than ruptured membrane tactics. He likes lingering close-up shots, lines delivered in half-stilted, dream-like cadences (which could be partially because the director doesn’t speak English), and overlapping chronologies. This is the director, after all, who gave us the grisly elegance of films such as Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.
Oddly, Philip Glass had been tapped to provide the musical score, a task Glass’s minimalist chugalug scoring has been known to suit nicely. But Clint (Requiem for a Dream) Mansell got the gig and turns in some, well, Glass-y sounds that do complement the mannered, controlled gothic atmosphere. And atmosphere is key to Stoker, which nicely balances its elements of eerie sexuality, hints and hammer blows of foreboding, and the fun to be had within the genre. It hurts so good, so dreamily.