Stalker is a wonderful calling card for Savage, a director who understands both form and function of genre cinema.
The new horror-thriller Stalker has much in common with the Tarkovsky classic of the same name, in that both share a plot concerning a psychopathic ride-share driver. While Tarkovsky spun this story into nothing less than a contemplative meditation on the meaning of life, director/co-writer Tyler Savage is far more straightforward in his ambitions, serving up a lean, mean, tasty slice of pulp that will satisfy even the most skeptical of genre fans. Andy (Vincent Van Horn) is your basic bearded, slightly chubby, drum-playing hipster who moves from Austin to L.A. after a particularly bad break-up. As fate would have it, he meets the beautiful and charming Sam (Christine Ko) on his first night in the city, and after hitting it off at a local dive bar, they head back to her place courtesy of a ride-share service. Unfortunately, their driver is Roger (Michael Joplin), an intense and overly friendly fellow who seems a tad too interested in the duo, and whose casual run-in with Andy at a local coffee shop the next morning seems especially suspicious. Andy, however, is a nice guy, and it’s only after accepting an offer for drinks that he begins to see Roger’s questionable nature, a fact that makes itself evident once Andy ghosts him. If this sounds like The Cable Guy, it is, only minus the laughs, as Roger proceeds to make Andy’s life a waking nightmare.
A film like Stalker hinges on its direction, and Savage is more than up to the task. He employs a series of camera tricks that include disorienting close-ups, split diopters, blurred frame edges, wide-angle lenses, and a playful manipulation of the image’s depth of field that often renders the background a smear of primary and/or neon colors. None of these maneuvers are particularly original, but they are deployed effectively to create an atmosphere of unease, and prove that Savage understands both the mechanics of the medium and the genre itself, elevating the entire film with his keen style. Credit to DP Antonio Cisneros as well, who captures the city of Los Angeles in a way that recalls — high praise forthcoming — the works of Michael Mann in its saturated daytime yellows and golds and washed-out black nights, as glowing street lights dot the darkened horizon. In his film debut, Van Horn makes for a surprisingly effective “everyman,” engendering far more sympathy than the material warrants, and he and Ko share a pleasant rapport. A fair criticism could be that Joplin lays it on a bit thick, but he is the villain in a movie bluntly titled Stalker, so the overacting seems appropriate enough. While the film predictably has a twist up its sleeve that most viewers will see coming, Savage does manage to spring a few surprises in the final reel, with an ending that more than lives up to the director’s name. Stalker is a sturdy entry in the “X From Hell” subgenre that proved so popular in the ’80s and ’90s, and hopefully this welcome and effective throwback will open the door for more, bigger opportunities and introduce Savage to a wider audience. The man has chops; Stalker more than proves it.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | June 2021.