This thoroughly loopy family drama is the first English language film for Korean director Park (Oldboy). Those expecting an ordinary thriller will either be turned off or entranced by Park's remarkable visual stylings and the intentionally demented performances of the cast.
Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller's debut screenplay isn't much to speak of; in the hands of a hack director, Stoker would be routine or even downright awful. But this is a rare case where a great filmmaker can take a mediocre script and turn it into something special.
The film opens with the funeral of Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney), who died unexpectedly in a car crash. As his wife Evelyn (an eerie-looking Nicole Kidman) and daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) mourn his loss, Richard's little brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) suddenly shows up, a creepy smile on his face, and you know there's gonna be trouble.
This "Uncle Charlie" will immediately remind some of Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, in which Joseph Cotten played a similar character of the same name. I don't think it's a coincidence. Stoker is definitely riffing on Shadow of a Doubt as it explores the complicated relationship between this spooky uncle and his equally spooky niece.
If you see Stoker, don't do it for the story. Do it for Park Chan-wook. As an oddball visionary, he's on par with David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick. His Stoker is no more a typical domestic thriller than Blue Velvet or The Shining. Park's visuals are often astonishing, the crazed performance he gets out of Kidman is nearly the stuff of high camp, and his camera spends so much time on Wasikowska's two-toned saddle shoes that one might well peg him for a shoe fetishist.
It's not a perfect film, due to Miller's potboiler script (Secretary scribe Erin Cressida Wilson is credited as "contributing writer"), but if you can accept the film's strange tone as proof that Park knows what he's doing, and that he isn't out of his depth (as Wong Kar Wai may have been with his English language debut My Blueberry Nights), you'll have a nutty time with Stoker. Catch it before it becomes a cult classic.