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Stoker review

The art of Park-ness...

As South Korean troublemaker Kim Jee-woon’s recent The Last Stand proved, worldly arthouse directors often get neutered when they hit America.

Park Chan-wook’s US debut busts that mould.

Despite brimming with movie references, the Oldboy auteur’s cool, cruel family mystery never falls into faceless homage: its queasy eroticism, black wit, arch nastiness and intensely loaded images couldn’t be anyone else’s doing.

Hitchcock’s Shadow Of A Doubt is echoed in Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who arrives at the funeral of his brother Richard (Dermot Mulroney) oozing smarmy malevolence.

But Chan-wook diverts into coming-of-age turf, seen through the black gaze of Richard’s 18-year-old kid India (Mia Wasikowska), a Wednesday Addams-alike who wields a mean pencil.

When Charlie meets India, the plot thickens: India’s mum’s (Nicole Kidman) designs on Charlie, Charlie’s designs on India and intimations of family secrets offer enough psychosexual subtext to give Freud a migraine.

Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller’s script sounds schlocky on paper, but Chan-wook charges it with style: the symbolic images (eggshells, spiders), suffocatingly lush furnishings, discordant Clint Mansell score and contained setting lure us into its claustrophobic hothouse of suggestion and suspicion.

Wasikowska is a revelation, and Kidman rediscovers her brittle form.

Some will find the grandiose climax excessive.

Others will see something to relish in its mix of OTT violence and gallows humour: proof that Chan-wook’s appetite for disruption hasn’t been lost in translation.

Park Chan-wook brings operatic finesse to generic material in his tight-wound, wickedly weird US debut. And Mia Wasikowska nails it.

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Kevin Harley

Kevin Harley is a freelance journalist with bylines at Total Film, Radio Times, The List, and others, specializing in film and music coverage. He can most commonly be found writing movie reviews and previews at GamesRadar+.