Park Chan-wook Gets Hitchcockian in Stoker

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 27 2012 5:12 PM

Trailer Critic: Stoker

Stoker trailer
Nicole Kidman in the trailer for Park Chan-wook's Stoker

Love him or hate him, Korean director and fanboy idol Park Chan-wook combines his sometimes nauseating plots with a visual style and psychological depth that separates him from mere provocateurs. While the iconic octupus-eating sequence from revenge flick Oldboy was repulsive, it vividly illustrated protagonist Oh Dae-su’s lack of normal human feeling after a brutal captivity. By emphasizing the cruelty of those in charge, Park has become a cinematic icon for a generation of South Koreans who mistrust authority.

When news broke that Park’s English-language debut would be the enigmatically-titled Stoker, some fans were worried Hollywood would dilute the director’s ruthless aesthetic. But so far there’s no evidence that this is a vampire flick. In fact, the first trailer should quiet all fanboy fears: Park’s style looks decidedly, terrifyingly intact.

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“You know, I’ve often wondered why it is we have children? And the conclusion I’ve come to is we want someone to get it right this time,” Nicole Kidman says at the beginning of the trailer, sounding like a normal, benevolent human being. The bucolic scenes of a father playing with his child in Days of Heaven-like sun-dappled fields of wheat reinforces that impression. Then we cut to Kidman’s creepy face, and she vengefully amends, “But not me. Personally speaking, I can’t wait to watch life tear you apart.” Now we know Park won’t pull any punches for American viewers.  

The setup appears to echo Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, in which a mysterious uncle’s spontaneous visit to his doting sister prompts his favorite niece to discover his past crimes. (There are shades of Hamlet, too.) Here, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) begins to suspect foul play in the wake of her father’s death when her charming Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to visit her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). While Hitchcock merely hinted at uncle-niece incest in his own film, the trailer inches toward something more explicit—this is Park Chan-wook, after all—when Uncle Charlie gets a little too close for comfort to India at the piano. He says he just wants “to be friends.”

Moreover, Park’s striking visuals and play with color are unquestionably present. A violent montage of images near the beginning of the trailer shatters the seeming calm of the movie’s rural setting: We see a thundering train, a till with razorlike blades slashing the soil, and a bird furiously pecking the ground. Wasikowska, who often plays rather uptight young heroines, finally gets to have some scary fun: In response to a bully’s lame pun on her name, she stabs him with a sharpened pencil. (Oldboy fans may recall Oh Dae-su’s way with a hammer.)

The real surprise, though, is Matthew Goode, an underutilized actor who appears to be getting a breakout role. Goode channels Joseph Cotten as he tells India, with quiet menace, “It’s a bad habit, you know… following uncles around.” Here’s hoping he gets to say something half as memorable as “The world is a foul sty.”

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