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MV5BMjI3MTM5ODI5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjE1Mzc4OA@@._V1_SX214_The term Hitchcockian gets thrown around so much these days that it’s all but lost its meaning; any film with any hint of suspense or intrigue is described by critics as having a true Hitchcock feel without taking into consideration what that comparison is actually saying. While the late great Sir Alfred Hitchcock was indeed a master of suspense and intrigue, his films were so much more than that. Layered between the moments of intense terror that Hitchcock so masterfully portrayed were studies in psychology and, ultimately, humanity; it’s not enough to simply be suspenseful. To be Hitchcockian a film must truly follow the lead of the first cinematic master of suspense as a study in both terror and character.
For his first English language film, Stoker, South Korean director Chan-wook Park, already acclaimed for his Vengeance Trilogy which includes the stunning Old Boy, has delivered a terrifying and suspenseful film that is, in every sense of the word, Hitchcockian.
The film follows the coming of age (of sorts) of the young India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) following the sudden, unexpected loss of her father in a mysterious car accident. India is a bit of an outsider at school with little interest in the politics of adolescence and high school; this is, we are led to believe, a result of her preternatural abilities of sight and hearing. From the first moments of the film we are told that India can hear what others cannot hear and see what others cannot see. These gifts have made her an extraordinary hunter, as evidenced by all the stuffed birds and animals her father has kept, celebrating her kills.
As her father is laid to rest she meets an uncle she never knew she had; her father’s brother Charles (Matthew Goode, in a decidedly creepy turn) returns from what he claims has been a years-long trip abroad in the name of running some mysterious business. As a show of support for his brother’s family, Charles offers to stay with India and her mother (Nicole Kidman) for a while to help them settle into their new normal.
The arrival of Charles heralds a series of increasingly mysterious disappearances related to the family. A beloved housekeeper suddenly leaves her position; a great aunt leaves without so much as a goodbye. Everyone seems to have something to say about Charles, but no one feels comfortable saying anything while he is around; no one who knows dares even whisper about Charles, for fear that his super hearing will detect the conversation. Just who is this Charles? And what is his true intent? And why does he seem so interested in a niece he’s never met?

Park’s film is a beautifully paced musing on life and death that is wonderfully shot by longtime collaborator Chung-hoon Chung; in true Hitchcockian fashion, every frame of the film is perfectly shot and captures externally the internal conflicts of the characters. There are some masterful moments of camera trickery and clever editing sprinkled throughout the film that truly hammers home the technical prowess of the filmmaker and his ability as a story teller.
And there is much to be said of the performances from the cast, especially Wasikowska and Goode as India and Charles. They both shine as uncle and niece and their on screen interactions are always fascinating to watch. Even the often droll Kidman gave an outstanding performance as India’s mother. Despite an ad campaign that relies heavily on Kidman’s appearance in the film, she receives bottom billing in the cast list and really doesn’t have that much screen time. Still, her scant time on camera is a joy to behold.
Stoker is a truly amazing English language debut from Park who is now all but assured international acclaim. Taut, suspenseful, and at times bone-chilling, Stoker is a must see for fans of horror or suspense that Sir Alfred himself would no doubt approve of.

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