FILMS… Stalker (2022)

#2020s

 

Chris Watt’s claustrophobic and suspense-ridden screenplay is a film two-hander that takes you to new emotional heights…

 

Late one rainy night after a day at the studio, a self-absorbed B-list actress finds herself stuck in a hotel lift with a timid B-footage cameraman as a stormy night develops.

 

Stalker (2022) – OFFICIAL TRAILER, KaleidoscopeEnt

 

Lifts – or with the help of Realweegiemidget Translate, elevators for my American Readers – in the movies and TV have always increased the potency of the ongoing plot. This device can be the scene for a colleague’s hopeful romance with an elevator attendant in The Apartment (1960). Or the scene for spontaneous sex between an older woman and a much younger man in the Brat Pack film, Class (1983). On TV, this “prop” was used as a two-hander with the brothers, Bobby and JR Ewing stuck in a lift overnight with just a case of wine and time for reflection in the 300th episode of Dallas (1978-91).

More sinisterly this “prop” device adds anything from a moment of suspense in an action film to up the fear in a disaster movie or horror. Relevant scenes include the ill-fated all-star cast trying to escape The Towering Inferno (1974). Or when a service lift is used by a creepy mannequin doll – looking very much like Herbert Lom – in a horror segment in the Asylum (1972) portmanteau. Other thrilling moments include its use as part of a chase of a good guy after a bad guy, as the latter takes a lift in Telefon (1977) and on research, this prop has so many more on-screen connections.

The talented Scottish screenwriter, Chris Watt encompasses many of these wonderful and not so lovely themes about lifts in his screenplay for the Indie film Stalker (2022). This Steve Johnson directed film was filmed during the pandemic and is for most of the film one with two protagonists. It immediately captivates with the intriguing tagline, Who is the Hunter? This atmospheric film has two primary characters, who for much of this film are stuck in a lift (or elevator) together. There are also two fleeting appearances from two others relevant to this plot.

The film starts with some statistics – reinforcing the tagline and film title – telling that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men are stalked. Then it film begins. It’s dark and late one night, with the rain pelting down and a storm brewing, as a young woman, Rose Hepburn (Sophie Skelton) makes for a hotel and then heads to the un-manned reception. There’s no one to attend to her and the hotel seems eerily dark and uninhabited.

Regardless, Rose ignores the out-of-order sign on the lift and presses the button to take her to her upper-floor room. She’s joined in this lift by a nerdy-looking man, Daniel Reed (Stuart Brennan) at the last minute. Then with a jolt and a shudder, the creaky old lift then gets stuck on the 12th floor. Eerily we notice this pair of apparent strangers being watched and recorded by a video cam.

Rose seems a wee bit panicky about being stuck in a lift with this stranger. She keeps an eye on Daniel’s every move – despite the fact that his spectacled man seems quite shy and timid – using her mobile phone. She sarcastically chides Daniel saying he’s “not the hero we need”, as he doesn’t save her from this predicament. She tries and fails to get hold of the hotel reception using her mobile phone, and finds the mobile phone signal a bit unpredictable…

They talk randomly, and she tells him she is single and uses a wedding ring to deter potential creeps. She recognises him, and she learns they work with each other at the studio. She is the leading B-list actress in a film, and he also has a secondary role, filming extra scenes and B footage behind the scenes as a cameraman.

She initiates talk about her work, demanding to know his thoughts on the film, behind the scenes happenings and her. But he’s noncommittal, vague and professional and we learn he also takes an inhaler for asthma. Rose goes full tilt me, me, me. She tells him excitedly how she loves her “once in a lifetime role” so much she calls it “a part to kill for”. Daniel confesses to having taken footage of a time at the studio recently, when Rose had a fight with the director, Grant (Bret Hart).

In this footage, we see how she got appropriately angry when the director asked her to do a shot topless. Rose deemed this not appropriate for her character and told him so. Rose boasts to Daniel, that she was the first choice for this movie. She was then replaced with Alice, an A-list star who recently went missing during the filming of this movie. Rose adds that Alice was at one point dating this director. Rose discovers through his footage that Daniel is more than a little obsessed with her. She then discovers that he’s followed her career as an actress, and she learns she is stuck in a lift with her no 1 fan…

This British movie reminded me of a modern day version of the British film Deadly Strangers (1975). Both films boast a screen dominating two leads cast, and with relevant other characters seen in small roles. Both sets of characters are stuck in possibly perilous situations together, with Rose and Daniel in a lift, and Belle (Hayley Mills) and Stephen (Simon Ward) in his car on a motorway. You’ll also discover both films are multigenre – but to tell you more would spoil major plotlines.

In both movies, on first impressions, the male protagonist seems to harbour an unhealthy attraction for the seemingly innocent female protagonist. The female protagonist is the most beguiling of characters as we slowly learn more about her and her past. Instead of a tagline, where you doubt from the start about the “Hunter”‘s identity, Deadly Strangers began as a patient escapes from a secure mental health hospital and as some killings begin as you guess their identity. Both films have more than a few red herrings woven into the screenplay…

I believe that Stalker has more of a chilling ambience when comparing the two films. This story is set in a lift, so immediately it has more of a claustrophobic and atmospheric setting. Both Daniel and Rose ignore the ominous Out of Order sign and their joint scenes played out within shadows and darkness. Watt’s screenplay writing is amplified in those sterling performances where the switches in the personalities and behaviours of these leads keep you on edge. There is no escape for either protagonist from this possibly doomed lift, with unpredictable mobile phone reception and the hotel seemingly empty.

I found myself reflecting on this screenplay during a course I attended recently. We were asked our thoughts relating to an iceberg, an onion and a pair of spectacles in relation to culture… Like an onion has many layers, Sophie Skelton gives a spellbinding multilayered performance as we get to know Rose. The spectacles reminded me of Stuart Brennan as Daniel, as he provided a mesmerising performance as a timid character who first concealed his true motives and personality behind his spectacles.

But like the hotel setting in Bad Times at the El Royale (2018), the eeriest and most chilling character in Stalker is the lift. This setting is a confined and self-contained space, and a place our characters – and we – believe seems harmless and therefore like the first sight of an iceberg.  Yet as our protagonists enter the lift not thinking of the possible dangers found beneath the surface, of both the lift and later of each other, Chris Watt’s screenplay takes the viewer to all levels of analysis.

 

A big thanks to the screenplay writer, Chris Watt and Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment for allowing me access to a screener for this film. Financial compensation was not received for this post. All opinions expressed here are my own. I would also like that Chris Watt kindly sent me and personally agreed to me using Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment’s still and imagery from this film in my blog and all copyright is theirs. Chris Watt will also be featured in two further posts in November and December. If you are involved in the entertainment or blogging industry and would like to be featured or promoted here, please drop a line to me via my Contact Me Page.

 
 
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