On a scale of zero to Quentin Tarantino, South Korean director Park Chan-wook is not stuck in the middle with anyone. In his hyperviolent Vengeance
trilogy, characters have their teeth pulled with pliers and slice out their own tongues, a live octopus is consumed whole, incest occurs both intentionally and accidentally, a woman guns down a puppy, and a man goes on a killing rampage with a hammer. Viewers will find little of that in Park’s American debut, Stoker
, a coming-of-age psychodrama. But while the film may bear Park’s imprint in its rigid stylization—and there are a handful of blood spurts—it’s more silly than shocking, more contrived than creepy. Stoker
centers on India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), a moody 18-year-old who becomes even more sociopathic after the accidental death of her father. Her mother, Evelyn (a very arch Nicole Kidman), has warmed up quickly to India’s mysterious Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), the first of many nods to Alfred Hitchcock. But where in Shadow of a Doubt
Joseph Cotten was a charismatic murderer of wealthy widows, Goode is a straight-up, unblinking lunatic. This being a Park film, perverse events and stylized violence follow. A pencil becomes a dangerous weapon, and Park later cuts to a close-up of its bloody tip being slowly sharpened, shavings still oozing red. The sound design, too, is compellingly off-kilter, with an eggshell cracking loudly and a metronome ticking as India makes snow angels on the bed. Yet these images and sounds have little payoff. Much of the problem lies with Wentworth Miller’s soporific screenplay, and the performances hardly help, though Wasikowska is something of an exception. Where Kidman is austere to the point of cartoonishness and Goode a bulgy-eyed psychopath, Wasikowska brings some softness to her role. But for all its elegant weirdness, Stoker
adds up to little. Like the spider that repeatedly crawls up India’s bare leg, it keeps creeping forward without ever really arriving anywhere.