Throughout “Stoker,” his first English-language movie, director Park Chan-wook uses every element of filmmaking — angles, lighting, sound, costumes — to visually comment on the plot. Every frame is crammed with meaning, right from the opening credits.
“I wanted the credits to have some sense of fun and make it quite cute,” says the acclaimed South Korean director (“Oldboy”).
In the opening sequence of the film, which opens locally Friday, just-turned-18-year-old India (Mia Wasikowska) is running through her family’s estate, on a scavenger hunt for her birthday present. As she runs, she interacts with the names of the cast members — including Nicole Kidman, who plays India’s mom — as they appear on the screen.
“With Nicole’s credit, the strange relationship between mother and daughter is expressed by India striking the credit and it turns to dust,” Park says.
From there, things get less fun. India’s father dies on her birthday. His brother Charlie (Matthew
Goode) shows up for the funeral and moves in with India and her mother, even though neither of them were aware Charlie even existed. It’s hard to tell who’s seducing whom, but one thing’s clear: This family has real problems with boundaries.
India and Charlie have a connection that’s partly sexual, partly psychic — a connection that Charlie preys upon. In an almost unbearably tense scene, Charlie sends India into the world’s creepiest basement, ostensibly to put some ice cream away. India seems to know something is wrong (it is). It’s Charlie’s test, Park says, to see if he and India do indeed have the otherworldly connection they both sense.
“She knew that something scary is present in the basement as she moves through it,” Park says. “She’s able to sense something different about the basement, that something has changed or something sinister lurks.”
Park says the film is largely an exaggerated example of what happens to girls as they become women. For India, that means at the end of the film “she’s past the point of avenging anyone’s death or having to save anybody,” Park says. “She’s completely come into her own.”