A young woman's reddish-brown hair, in close-up, dissolves into an overhead shot of wild reeds, eased this way and that by the wind. "Stoker" would be nothing without such flourishes. The film swims in them, and cares little for conventional narrative tension.
Photographed in Tennessee but set in an indistinct American location near nowhere in particular, the movie follows characters as they glide through a pristine void, eyeing each other amid faultlessly art-directed surroundings before getting stabbed or shot or doing the shooting or stabbing.
The psychosexual cross-currents flow not so much as they do in life, but the way they do in a Park Chan-Wook movie. This is what we have here. "Stoker" comes from the South Korean director whose "Vengeance Trilogy" ("Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," "Oldboy" and "Lady Vengeance") won admirers around the world, as did Park's vampire picture, "Thirst," my favorite of his so far.
See it if you haven't: It's pretty great, and it'll help you forget "Twilight" ever happened.
Park's latest stakes out new territory for the director as a gun for hire, filming a script by Wentworth Miller deeply indebted to the 1943 Hitchcock picture "Shadow of a Doubt" (speaking of great). Like Joseph Cotten's blithe Uncle Charlie in that film, "Stoker" casts Matthew Goode as the mysterious visiting uncle of our hostess and narrator, India, played by Mia Wasikowska. With her father, Charlie's brother, recently dead and buried, 18-year-old India can't help but notice that her mother (Nicole Kidman) makes goo-goo eyes and squeals every time Uncle Charlie is near. India has her own feelings for this man.
Something's gotta give! Densely plotted, though not exactly full of surprises, "Stoker" nudges India toward all sorts of forbidden fruit and trials of fire. Wasikowska is a fine, intriguing actress, though I'm not sure anyone could make actual psychological sense of this woman. Nobody on screen — not Kidman, not Goode, not Wasikowska, not Jacki Weaver as Auntie Gin — seems entirely at home in the chosen (or guessed-at) style. And yet, as it becomes more and more delirious in its explanations of Charlie's past, "Stoker" at least gives you a few images to remember, such as the precisely judged long shot of one unlucky character staggering across a lonely road with a pair of garden shears sticking out of his skull.
'Stoker' -- 2 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for disturbing violent and sexual content)
Running time: 1:40