Stalker is a no-nonsense thriller that delivers on the promises of its premise thanks to a clever script, clear storytelling and a cast that firmly embraces the complexities of its roles. It’s not groundbreaking, but frankly, not every film needs to be. Sometimes a standout example of otherwise well-tread conventions is special in and of itself.
Andrew (Vincent Van Horn) arrives in Los Angeles to start a new life after a rough breakup with his partner, Erin (Landry Allbright). Her memory haunts him. Most nights, Andrew spends at least a little while browsing her Instagram and his saved photos, thinking about their time together. Occasionally, he still relieves himself to old photos she’d sent him. It’s that kind of thing. Old flames are hard to extinguish.
One lonely night he meets Sam (Christine Ko) in a bar. They hit it off, spending a chaste evening together watching videos and cuddling, fully clothed. Sam recently ended it with a boyfriend, too, and their connection grows as the two steadily find a new path forward together.
Unfortunately, the same night Andy met Sam was also the night he met Roger (Michael Lee Joplin), an Uber driver who seems equally lonely. He “happens upon” Andy at the bar one night. They have a decent time, and soon Roger won’t stop calling Andy, day and night, with increasingly disturbing language. Soon Roger starts messing with Andy’s life in unexpected ways: installing hidden cameras, impersonating him on phone calls, threatening his dog. Andy tries to keep his life with Sam and his situation with Andy separate, even as the two slowly collide.
Director Tyler Savage does a great job ratcheting up the tension (he also wrote the script alongside Dash Hawkins), relying on Ko, Van Horn and Joplin to make what could otherwise feel like caricatures pop off the screen. Ko and Van Horn in particular do a great job playing damaged people whose secrets feel just below the surface. It’s clear neither of them is telling the full truth but we grow to love them so much we don’t necessarily want to know it. Joplin does some heavy lifting as Roger, whose psychopathic behavior thankfully never veers into cartoonishness.
It’s hard to discuss the best part of Stalker without diving into spoilers, so in the vaguest terms possible: The ending is the sort of twist that successfully re-contextualizes the entire film for the better. It’s the sort of turn that feels obvious to fans of this type of thriller, which isn’t a knock: Much of the film is about building Sam and Andrew into empathetic characters so that you don’t want the inevitable to occur. When it does … well. It’s painful, and not just for the characters we’ve come to love. The story hinges on a light commentary about the way we present ourselves in the age of social media and the dark potential of a world where our private information is only a few clicks away.
Although it plays with some conventional storytelling beats, I was surprised and delighted with every aspect of Stalker.