THE SILLIEST, MURDER-IEST coming-of-age story since... I don't know, Dirty Dancing (if Dirty Dancing had been full of murdering), Stoker is the English-language debut from Park Chan-wook. Park's the South Korean director behind Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance—the "Vengeance Trilogy"—and those wacky, excellent, bizarre revenge flicks contain some of the grisliest, strangest moments in modern cinema. Oldboy alone shows things done to a live octopus and with a blood-splattered hammer that will live inside your soul until you die.
But the great thing about the Vengeance Trilogy is how involving all of them are; despite their shocks and despite Park's showoffy stylistic flourishes, they're genuinely engaging stories. Maybe that's why Stoker feels so broken: It boasts a lot of that same luridness, but seems so tonally uneven that one's unable to tell what, if anything, the film's trying to do. Nothing in Stoker sticks in either your memory or your craw; while there's blood, and sex, and murder, and masturbation and spiders and shoes (that's right, ladies!), all of it's so jumbled together that it just sort of... is.
Mia Wasikowska plays ridiculously named teenager India Stoker, who lives in a stately mansion with her expressionless mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman's Botox). India and Evelyn spend their days being incredibly rich; ever since the sudden death of Richard, India's father and Evelyn's husband, the two apparently have nothing to do. Until, that is, Richard's mysterious, handsome brother Charles (Matthew Goode) moves in. The Skeeviest Uncle Ever, Charles wastes no time putting the moves on both his dead brother's wife and his barely legal niece, and even though there are concerned glances from the likes of housekeeper Mrs. McGarrick (Phyllis Somerville) and Aunt Gwendolyn (Jacki Weaver), no one gets really worried until people start fucking. And dying.
Gothic, melodramatic, and crammed with psychosexual shenanigans, Stoker can be pulpy fun—equal parts Lolita and Tales from the Crypt, it's at its best when it's at its most ridiculous. (Park somehow makes India's innocent trip down to the cellar to get ice cream out of a freezer hit Scooby-Doo levels of cartoonish creepiness.) Stoker is at its worst, though, when it insists on taking its increasingly dumb plot points seriously, and too many stretches go by without anything all that interesting happening: India mopes, Park and cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon catch a particularly gorgeous moment in the cold, odd house of the cold, odd Stokers, Harmony Korine inexplicably plays a bit part. If Stoker's supposed to be an artsier bit of forgettable pulp, it succeeds—but if it's actually trying to say something, it doesn't.