The Remote: ‘Stoker’ is a vampy, chilling, thrilling delight

Ryan Pait

If Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects” was a smudgy love letter to Alfred Hitchcock, Park Chan-wook’s “Stoker” is an immaculate sonnet.

Park, a South Korean director best known for his movie “Oldboy,” makes his American debut with “Stoker.”

And what Park gives his audience is a gloriously composed, first-rate thriller of which Hitchcock himself would be proud.

There are the quintessential Hitchcockian elements: a mysterious death, an even more mysterious uncle, and a mother and daughter that are on pins and needles with each other.

Said mysterious uncle is Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who shows up at the funeral for his brother Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney).

Richard’s widow Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and his daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) are quite surprised. Charlie has been “abroad” for the majority of his life; Evelyn and India haven’t even met him before.

Charlie worms his way into Evelyn and India’s frosty home life, delighting the mother and annoying the daughter. India and her father were extremely close, and Charlie seems to be moving in, in more ways than one.

As tensions begin to run high in the Stoker household, another mysterious relative arrives: great aunt Gwendolyn (Jacki Weaver), also known as Aunty Gin. Evelyn and Gin have an even chillier relationship than she and India have — this movie might as well take place in an ice castle.

Aunt Gin has some essential information to relay, but true to Hitchcock fashion, she may be too late.

That’s about as far as I can go without ruining the movie’s best surprises. I will say this: the Hitchcockian twists and turns here are much better than they were in Soderbergh’s “Side Effects.”

Besides the thrilling plot, Park also has visual splendor to offer. This was my first Park feature, but it quickly became obvious to me that he’s an excellent visual storyteller.

Take, for instance, a sequence where a crime is discovered, a crime is committed, and a crime of another sort is planned. In the hands of a lesser director, the combination of these three separate scenes may have fallen flat.

With the steady hand of Park, however, they play out as visual poetry.

Park also makes some nice nods to Hitchcock’s work through his imagery. Take Aunty Gin’s hairstyle, extremely reminiscent of Kim Novak’s in “Vertigo.” India has a passion for hunting animals that her father stuffed for her — Hitchcock fans can more than put that one together.

Also excellent are the performances. Mia Wasikowska is a delight as India, effectively toeing the line between positively prim and fiendishly ferocious.

Wasikowska is one of the most promising up-and-coming talents in the industry, and her performance here is proof of that as she holds her own against more seasoned actors.

Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode are also good in their roles, with Kidman playing an ice queen (surprise!) and Goode being the perfect mix of amiability and malignancy. Jacki Weaver is a treat in her small role, too.

The film’s greatest weakness is its screenplay, which perhaps can’t compare to the mastery of Park’s direction. There are a few clunks, but they’re not Park’s fault, and he more than pulls his weight by covering up any weaknesses in the screenplay.

I think it’s safe to say that Sir Alfred Hitchcock would approve of Mr. Park’s work here: “Stoker” is a vampy, chilling, thrilling delight.