Michael Joplin in Stalker (Photos: Vertical Entertainment)
By Matt Brunson
★★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Tyler Savage
STARS Christine Ko, Vincent Van Horn
Although it’s set in Los Angeles, Stalker might hit a little too close to home — no matter where home might be. Its plot involves a deranged ride-share driver, and given how often outfits like Lyft and Uber turn up in the news regarding assaults, some viewers might opt to seek entertainment elsewhere. Fair enough. But those couch dwellers open to a film that has the power to disturb should definitely give this one a shot.
Originally named Blinders (a better title, since it leans into more than one meaning), Stalker finds Andy (Vincent Van Horn) moving from Austin to Los Angeles after a long-term relationship goes belly-up. Alone in a strange city, he finds a sympathetic listener in Sam (Christine Ko), a woman he meets in a quiet bar, and they quickly become a couple. He also meets Roger (Michael Joplin), a ride-share driver clearly hoping to establish a friendship with Andy. The two guys hang out a couple of times, but between his burgeoning relationship with Sam and some decidedly clingy behavior on Roger’s part, Andy stops returning his calls. Big mistake, since Roger considers this behavior a betrayal and does everything in his power to make Andy’s life miserable.
Supported by Joplin’s intense performance, the script by director Tyler Savage and Dash Hawkins quickly establishes Roger’s nutso credentials, and Savage maintains an unsettling atmosphere as Roger escalates his imaginary feud with Andy. Roger is unnerving enough while merely partaking in juvenile pranks such as sending Andy porn messages and, uh, tainting his OJ, but he becomes truly frightening once it’s determined that he has the ability to destroy this man’s life by messing with his employment, his relationships, and his finances. And it isn’t just Roger’s acts of sabotage that are scary — it’s also the remarkable ease with which one person is able to completely take over another individual’s life and, thus, identity, causing irrevocable damage with an e-mail here, a phone call there.
A de facto component of the modern thriller is the twist ending, and Blinders comes equipped with one of those. It’s a clever one, and, what’s more, the big reveal helps settle some niggling details from earlier in the picture. This plot pirouette (and what follows) is certain to anger as many viewers as it satisfies, but nobody can accuse Savage of pulling his punches for the sake of audience appeasement.
Incidentally, there’s a dog in the movie (sporting the great name Juicebox) and, considering he’s Andy’s pooch, it’s reasonable to worry about his fate. Will Roger poison him? Run him over? Go the Fatal Attraction bunny route? Since I would hate for anyone to skip Stalker simply because they’re worried about a possible pup trigger, I’ll go ahead and offer the mild spoiler that he does not perish. Even considering the surrounding sordidness, the filmmakers clearly paid heed to those popular “I Don’t Care Who Dies In A Movie As Long As The Dog Lives” t-shirts.
(Stalker is streaming on Hulu and available for rent on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and VUDU.)