Stalker is a film that is seriously hampered by a laboured and predictable middle half but is saved with a cracker of a final act. If only we had cut out the waste and got there sooner to delve more into that world, then we would have had something special.
In the wake of a messy break-up, Andy Escobedo (Vincent Van Horn) decides to start fresh, relocating from Austin to Los Angeles. Eager to make new connections, he befriends Roger (Michael Lee Joplin), an unusual rideshare driver. But when Roger’s behaviour gets too strange for comfort, Andy blows him off, choosing to focus on a budding relationship with his new girlfriend, Sam (Christine Ko). This unhinges Roger, who begins to torment Andy, ensuring that his stay in L.A. is short-lived.
There is a lot to like about Stalker, from its methods in showing Andy look on his phone at his memories, to how it flips to a vertical camera. The film tries to keep itself visually and although it is a well trodden story. We find Andy at the worst moment in his life, he has left the safety of home with only his dog as a companion. His mother is obviously worried as he has moved half way across the country and he has to start from scratch with only memories left to flood his mind. It feels as if this could be the start to a fresh take on the stalker trope and in some ways it is. Yet it doesn’t take long for the film to run into serious problems.
Sadly with Stalker, it is a film with a killer ending but severely drags in the middle due to how formulaic it becomes. The feeling that we wasted a good 30 minutes sticks with you as we get to that final act that you almost wish Savage was bold enough to skip to the end and then carry on with that side of the story as there is a lot more room to explore that aspect of the story than what we get. By doing that, we could have had a more memorable flick.
The main issue for the middle drag is just how undeveloped it is; this is where the film should kick on and give its audience something to stick our teeth into, not just a new guy in town who meets a weird enough stranger. Said weirdo sabotages the protagonist’s life; the protagonist begins to suspect and find evidence about who it is. It is just so by the numbers that it never allows the characters to grow. Roger looks like a psychopath almost from the first second we meet him, and Andy never does enough to make us invest or care about him. He is a forgettable character, and in a film like this, we need some form of charisma to continue.
This isn’t entirely Tyler Savage and Dash Hawkin’s fault, though, as bar Christine Ko, none of the cast is likeable. That is possibly the point, though; Andy perhaps should be forgettable, just a normal guy who got caught up in events he could never see coming. But it is the other characters that hurt the film. Van Horn does well enough with what is given in the film. Yet seeing as we spend so much time with him, we should like him more than we do, and not getting that chance is frustrating as we want to like him, to root for him, but it is so difficult to when he adds nothing to the piece.
The situation he finds himself in should feel catastrophic, his new world is already falling apart, and he can only watch as it happens. However, for reasons unbeknownst to the audience, he never seems to be in a hurry or in a desperate need to fix the wrongs happening to him. He should be losing his mind, whereas until the very end and everything has happened and Sam and his dog become targets, that is when he seems to kind of care. We identify with his situation and pity it, yet we never get to that point in caring about him. Sadly we are bystanders muttering, oh well, to this stranger.
Stalker does do things right; we certainly want to see how this thriller ends, be it wanting to see Roger get his comeuppance or make sure those we care about make it out alive; the slow build has us expecting a grand finale, and it truly delivers that. The sense of dread just continues and on, and it is perhaps because we see so much of what Roger is doing, we become as engaged as we are.
Los Angeles almost becomes a character as it is either filled with that bright sunshine during the daytime scenes or clouded in neon lights in the darkness. Savage can have his audience equally as tense in the daytime as in the evening, which is no mean feat for a film set in a city we know so well. Throughout Stalker, we are presented with just how gorgeous everything is; there is hope within the city. Opportunities and friendships are just around the corner, so when events take their expected turn, that blaring hot sun somehow feels a little cold. It is excellent work from the production team to tell the story that it does visually.
The predictable two thirds almost fatally hurt Stalker, but there are hints of something great lurking deep within it. There was a lot to like about the film, but with one arm tied behind its back with the script. It was never given a chance to shine in the Los Angeles sun as it should have. A film that epitomises what could have been by being solid yet unremarkable.
Stalker is available now on Cable and Digital VOD.
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