Photo by Macall Polay - Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

When a visual stylist like Korean director Park Chan-Wook (of Oldboy fame) is handed a screenplay that demands an atmosphere of portent and dread, it’s likely that the filmmaker will make the most of the opportunity. I only wish Wentworth Miller’s screenplay for Stoker weren’t so smugly self-aware and repellent. (Incidentally, I learned by reading the press notes that the movie’s title is an homage to Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, because that famous vampire was an outsider, just like one of the central characters in this piece. Too bad we can’t intuit that from the film itself.)

Matthew Goode-290
Photo by Macall Polay - Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

At first, Stoker resembles a twisted variation on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 thriller Shadow of a Doubt, with Matthew Goode in the role of Uncle Charlie, created so memorably by Joseph Cotten. But that film worked so well because Hitchcock contrasted the utter ordinariness of its characters and small-town setting with the evil nature of the charming uncle. In Stoker, everyone is strange and everything is weird. Where’s the novelty value in that?

Mia Wasikowska plays a dark-natured loner whose father dies just before her 18th birthday. It’s only then that she learns of her uncle’s existence. He’s handsome and charming, but she can’t quite figure him out; neither can we, at first, but it doesn’t take long to discern that he’s up to no good. The girl’s mother, played by Nicole Kidman, is of little help: she’s reclusive, sullen and sexually frustrated. These talented actors, and several others in minor supporting roles, give the film their all, but to no avail.

One has to give credit to director Park for his orchestration of these elements and his ability to create and sustain a mood. But I couldn’t wait for Stoker to come to a close.