By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
1 in every 6 women will be stalked in their lifetime. 1 in every 19 men will be stalked in their lifetime. 1 in 2 stalkers have a relationship with their victims. These statistics are presented as title cards and malevolently set the stage for the spine-tingling psychological horror film Stalker.
Stalker comes from director Steve Johnson and stars Sophie Skelton (known for her role as Brianna in Outlander) as Rose Hepburn, a young actress who returns to her creepy and eerily empty hotel at the end of a long workday on set filming a horror movie. As she makes her way back to her hotel room, Rose soon finds herself stuck in an old freight elevator with a mysterious man (played by BAFTA winning actor Stuart Brennan). With an ominous storm raging outside depriving her of a phone signal, Rose learns more about the mysterious man and becomes suspicious of his motives.
Stalker occupies an unusual place among psychological thrillers and horror cinema – the claustrophobic elevator film. Those familiar with this rather niche subgenre may have seen the M. Night Shyamalan-produced Devil, the Mexican film The Lift, or the underappreciated Elevator. It’s a creative and, when executed intelligently, rather effective premise that positions characters in a literal corner and screenwriters in a figurative corner. Stalker approaches this premise at the intersection of psychological thriller and horror to deliver a highly suspenseful and intense film that keeps the viewer guessing until its final moments.
The film opens on a delightfully spooky night with thunder rumbling in the distance, heavy rain coming down on empty streets, and a creepy, old fashioned hotel for a setting. Sophie Skelton’s aptly named Rose Hepburn comes across an out-of-order elevator for guests and soon locates a freight elevator to take her up to her room. A quiet and unusual man, the only other person seen in the hotel, makes his way into the elevator as well. And, from this moment on, the entirety of Stalker unfolds in the confines of a tight elevator as the characters find themselves trapped.
Director Steve Johnson works the confined space of this thriller brilliantly, conveying its claustrophobia while never becoming burdensome to the viewer. Johnson works from a tightly written script from Chris Watt, one that slowly increases in intensity largely through dialogue exchanges alone. Given the punchy title of the film and the aforementioned statistics about stalking that open the film, the audience feels somewhat ahead of and more knowledgeable than Skelton’s lead. Rose, unlike the audience, is unaware of the real threat in this elevator as the mysterious man Daniel Reed manages to produce reasonable explanations for all of his unusual quirks and comments. In a manner similar to the second half of last year’s excellent Barbarian, Stalker creates suspense from this discrepancy in knowledge between the audience and the lead character and fosters the sort of experience where the viewer can’t help but talk to the screen in an unfruitful effort to warn her of the dangers ahead. Interestingly, however, the film plays with the audience’s expectations after the advantage in knowledge that is established, which allows for the film’s twists and turns to really deliver.
Adding to the claustrophobic, low-budget horror vibe of Stalker is the fact that the film only features three actors in speaking roles. Skelton and Brennan, playing the trapped duo, feature in virtually every frame of the film and, as such, harbor a heavy responsibility to make the situation convincing and engaging. Although some interactions come across as a little stiff, the dynamic between Skelton and Brennan works well as their relationship fluctuates from cordial and welcoming to tense and suspicious to something else entirely. In a case of genuinely unusual and somewhat distracting casting, wrestling legend Bret Hart cameos as Rose’s film director in a scene integral to the plot.
With the lead character being a young actress in a horror film, Stalker also features commentary about the film industry, the pursuit of stardom, and the relationships between starring talent and overlooked behind the scenes crew. The commentary isn’t groundbreaking, but serves as an interesting additional element to an intense and suspenseful psychological thriller.
Deliberately paced and suspensefully claustrophobic, Stalker is an intelligently written psychological thriller that deftly plays with audience expectations to deliver an intense and unpredictable experience. Fans of low-budget horror and/or contained films will enjoy the spooky, atmospheric setting of the film, while even eagle-eyed viewers will likely be surprised by the directions this thriller goes in. Some awkward dialogue and film industry archetypes aside, Stalker is an effective, contained psychological horror that will make you want to avoid the elevator and take the stairs from now on.
Stalker is now playing in select theaters and is available on demand. Check out the trailer below!