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Friday, 15 March 2013 00:00

'Stoker' trades on tension

'Stoker' trades on tension hollywoodreporter.com
Written by Diane Carson
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In a triumph of style over substance, South Korean director Chan-wook Park transforms a relatively isolated house in rural Connecticut into an emotional pressure cooker. The funeral for husband Richard Stoker brings his long-absent brother Charlie to help wife Evie and daughter India. But an undercurrent of distrust makes clear that danger awaits this family.

Famous for his intense South Korean trilogy: "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," "Old Boy," and "Lady Vengeance" as well as for "Thirst," writer/director Chan-wook Park intensifies anxiety with a subtle glance, a slight movement or just silence. This skilled director unites compositions, art direction, and actors in a disquieting effect. The weak link here is Wentworth Miller's story that telegraphs too much too early. It does benefit from the Hitchcockian notion that villains need not be unattractive physically or emotionally. And so Uncle Charlie is a smooth talking, handsome killer, rather like, well, Uncle Charlie in Hitchcock's personal favorite of his own films, "Shadow of a Doubt." Hitchcock's "Psycho" and "The Birds" also come to mind.

Knowing his literary as well as cinematic history, Park loads "Stoker" with additional allusions, beginning with the title "Stoker" that suggests connections with Bram Stoker and extending to "Hamlet." But credit the film's effectiveness to the acting. As Evie, Nicole Kidman showcases the ease with which she conveys an unbalanced personality without exaggerating the character's flaws. Though occasionally slightly creepier than needed, Matthew Goode embodies a sinister, unnerving psychopath. His primary prey, Mia Wasikowska as India gives little away as the depressive, brooding 18-year-old daughter drawn to Charlie but wary as well.

Without overdoing the shadows, cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung atmospherically lights scenes for maximum eerie effects. Similarly, Therese Deprez's production design wrenches the attractive bourgeois house and a local motel into a sinister register. "Stoker" builds a spell that lingers after the lights have come back on. At a Landmark Theatre.

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