Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Park Chan-wook's first film in English, despite showcasing his skills behind the camera, is also a disappointment.

Scripted by Prison Break's Wentworth Miller, it owes so much in story terms to a range of sources from Alice In Wonderland to Shadow Of A Doubt and Psycho that you can't help feeling you've seen it all before, even if - as you would expect from Park - the visual storytelling is compelling.

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Speaking before the film's Sundance premiere in January, screening, Park urged us to "have a nice dream".

There is a dreamlike quality to the action, particularly from Mia Wasikowska, whose performance has an ethereal edge and recalls her role as Tim Burton's Alice, although given that she is now 23, there's a nagging suspicion that she is getting too old to play teenagers.

Her oddball India Stoker possesses heightened senses, a hatred of being touched and a firm belief that "to become an adult is to become free". We meet her on the day that she turns 18 and, in a cruel twist fate (or contrived Freudian set-up, if you prefer), also loses her father. Her bored trophy-wife mother (Nicole Kidman, getting to turn the histrionics up to 11) is little more than a frosty, brittle presence and things become even more worrisome when her mysterious Uncle Charlie - whom she has never previously met - turns up at her dad's funeral.

The heightened sense of India's reality is mimicked by Park's style and Miller's creations, who are pushed into the realm of melodrama and perilously close to caricature in pursuit of gothic thrills. But the characters and situations seem overly familiar. Charlie is like a Stepford Uncle from the start, too smooth to be real, and although Matthew Goode has a look of Anthony Perkins' Norman, he brings none of the Psycho actor's subtle threat to the role. India, too, has an all-too-obvious trajectory lying ahead of her as she begins, inevitably, to be drawn into her uncle's orbit.

The story - with its subsidiary characters lining up to meet their doom - is also telegraphed too far in advance so that the action is constantly trying to catch up with our expectations.

Despite all this, the film looks lovely, with Park's visual storytelling evoking Lewis Carroll's classic, often showing India seemingly growing and shrinking in relationship to the spaces she is in. This off-kilter sense of the environs of the film makes for an unsettling atmosphere and mirrors the mental state of India, at one moment a young naif, at another, calculating beyond her years.

This reference to the push-me, pull-you state of adolescence - with twin forces drawing you back towards childhood and on into adulthood - is the most interesting idea in the movie but it is otherwise swamped by cliche. The central story of Stoker has been told many times before and with much more accomplishment.

Reviewed on: 16 Feb 2013
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A bereaved girl's charismatic uncle spells trouble when he comes to stay.
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Director: Park Chan-wook

Writer: Wentworth Miller

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver, Nicole Kidman

Year: 2013

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: US

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