A consumer tip for tired viewers scrolling through streaming services late at night, looking for a nasty paranoid thriller and maybe getting confused by similar titles:
Watcher is about a young woman in Romania being followed by a creepy neighbor. Stalker is about a young man in Los Angeles being followed by a creepy ride-share driver. Watcher is dark and arty, with a moody Polanski vibe. Stalker is, well, not.
But it’s still an effective little, bare-bones horror.
The film stars Vincent Van Horn as Andy, a drummer who leaves behind a bad relationship, and Texas, to pack up his stuff and his dog and move to L.A. He finds a crummy apartment, lines up some tutoring gigs, and even quickly hooks up with a lively young woman. On the way back to her place, they text for a car.
The driver is friendly. In fact, he’s too friendly.
The next day, he’s texting Andy asking him to hang out. Texting him again, wondering why he doesn’t want to. And then text-bombing him with hurt feelings, accusations, threats.
Which is when things start to get really weird.
Van Horn makes Andy into a fully recognizable character – he’s sympathetic, while still being a little bit of a jerk – and Michael Joplin has a weirdly needy intensity as his stalker. Christine Ko suggests there’s more to Andy’s new girlfriend than a pretty face, and Antonio Cisneros’ cinematography is top-notch, switching between sunbaked California streets and dark interiors lit by laptops and phones.
The film’s only problem is that at first its story isn’t quite enough – and then it’s too much.
Once the basic plotline becomes clear, it also becomes limiting. The stalker follows Andy around, hacks into his phone and laptop, messes with his bank accounts and business – while Andy seethes, uselessly. It’s frustrating for him, but for the audience, too. We’ve seen all this before – usually in a Lifetime movie with some title like My Stalker Ex.
Then, as the film moves towards its conclusion, the plot takes a major twist, in hopes of being more than just a film about one obsessed guy. But the complications just add confusion, and some “revelations” that don’t make sense. It’s bad enough to be second-guessing a film’s logic after it’s over, but you shouldn’t be picking it apart while it’s still going on.
Still, the movie looks great, the three leads are all engaging, and there are a few gruesome little shocks. (And – spoiler alert! — good news for pet fans: The dog doesn’t die.) Everyone could have done a little better with this one. But frankly, if you’re looking for 80-odd minutes of thrills, you could do a lot worse.