Stoker (R) (98 min.) — South Korean director Park Chan-wook (Old Boy, Thirst) makes his English language debut, and none of his goose-pimply gifts are lost in translation. Stoker operates in a perpetual state of dread, a sophisticated Southern gothic that starts out confusing and winds up as a perversely humorous coming-of-age yarn.
Growing up oddly is India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland), a strangely perceptive young woman whose father died mysteriously on her 18th birthday. India has an acute sense of hearing that Park allows viewers to share, turning up the volume on cracking egg shells and gossipy whispers. India notices everything, including the undue attention her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman in full neurotic effect) shows to the Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) the girl never knew she had.
There's a mystery or two to be solved, but for an extended period Park is concerned less with clues than with fetishistic flourishes like a clever dissolve of the same style of shoes in different sizes to show the passage of time when they were birthday gifts and a piano duet with erotic overtones. Sex is both a weapon and a sign of weakness in Stoker, and lust is the shortest route to death.
Wasikowska makes India a passively aggressive hero, someone who'll be bullied only so long before biting the lips that kiss her. Kidman broadly plays the hysterical sexpot, but it suits the more overheated aspects of the plot. Goode is just that, playing someone not to be trusted although the extent of how much he deserves mistrust isn't clear until a climactic rush of past and present offenses. Stoker is a hot mess of horror, passion and insanity that may turn off as many viewers as it turns on. But it certainly isn't boring. B+
Steve Persall, Times movie critic