STALKER *** UK 2022 Dir: Steve Johnson. 93 mins
Elevators became ostensible no-go areas, cable-controlled coffins during the Covid pandemic and have, logically enough, long been a potent backdrop for horrific individual set pieces (DEEP RED / FINAL DESTINATION 2 / DAMIEN: OMEN II) and entire films (Dick Maas’ THE LIFT, DEVIL).
This effective one (tiny) room, two-handed chiller – an ideal format for a picture shot in said pandemic – opens with stats reminding us that, while one in two women will be stalked in their lifetime, one in nineteen men face the same ordeal. It’s a good scene-setter for a potent suspense scenario that doesn’t play all its cards too soon.
In an oddly quiet, three-star hotel, actress Sophie Skelton – who replaced the now-missing original actress in a “final girl” horror film role – gets stuck in a rickety old lift with Stuart Brennan, a nervy, bespectacled, possibly suspicious fellow guest who stands out as a bit odd immediately because he has no mobile phone. Not that it matters – there’s an obligatory “no signal” moment. He’s asthmatic, she’s claustrophobic, there’s no one on the front desk and cutaways to CCTV cameras in the building reveal no one around to come to the rescue even if the intercom wasn’t broken. While she voices pride of the resilient blind character she plays in the movie (and complains about arguments with its director about going topless), he turns out to be a B-roll cameraman working on the same movie.
Brennan cleverly exploits our wariness toward meek, mild-mannered, slightly twitchy young men in horror movies, subtly channeling Anthony Perkins with maybe-sinister dialogue (“I like taking things apart”) while mentioning living with a sick mother. The tables turn as the entrapment grows more tense, however, and the nicely judged performances play on genre conventions.
Inevitably, with such a restrictive setting and a dialogue-driven script, it sometimes feels like a dynamic 30 minute short (or TV anthology episode) stretched to feature length, but there’s enough to keep us compelled and the antagonist, when revealed, proves convincingly unhinged. There’s also an unnerving, LONG GOOD FRIDAY-style extended closing shot and an amusing final disclaimer assuring us that elevators still remain one of the safest forms of transportation within tall buildings.
Review by Steven West
Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment presents STALKER on DVD and Digital from 10th October 2022