Stalked first look review Arrow FrightFest 2019

Stalked pits a strong, fearless, desperate mother against an invisible male adversary

Sam (Rebecca Rogers) is in a difficult place. Recently divorced, she is struggling to negotiate what is left of her relationship with unhelpful ex-husband Craig (Ian Sharp) while also being left to juggle work and looking after her five-month-old daughter Amy (Amber Edgar) alone. Yet Sam is a fighter – literally. A member of the 24 Commando Royal Engineers, she is already seen fighting early in Stalked (aka Unseen), from writer/director Justin Edgar (The Marker, 2017; We Are The Freaks, 2013). First she goes for a long run through the woods, then she spars with her considerate trainer Cal (“Fists of fury”, he comments), and keeps sparring, even though she is ‘knackered’. For all her uncertainty about the future, for all the fragility and stress of her domestic situation, her pugnacious tenacity – and her dedication to Amy – are Sam’s principal drives.

“Another loser,” Berenice (Vanessa Donovan) tells Sam, explaining what went wrong with her last boyfriend. “Couldn’t cope with a woman in uniform. Said I made him feel emasculated.” These are powerful women, trained and motivated to be tough, and entirely unintimidated by men. “I’d rather have a civvie than a squaddie,” Sam replies to her friend, not realising that she is about to meet a man who embodies the very worst aspects of both.

While jogging to the pharmacy to get medicine for her ailing daughter, Sam is knocked out and abducted. She come to locked in a factory complex with another woman, Stacey (Imogen Irving), who has been there long enough to see a third woman get killed, and who is injured and terrified. Someone is stalking them, toying with them, seeking to terrorise them, before moving in for the final, fatal stab. And given that he is wearing one of the high-tech quantum camouflage suits produced in the factory, he is also completely invisible.

So Stalked is a serial killer thriller in which mice are trapped with a cat that neither they nor we can see. The stalker is reminiscent of the stealth-mode alien hunter from John McTiernan’s Predator (1987), or like the spectral rapist from Sidney J. Furie’s The Entity (1982), or like the invisible aggressor from Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man (2000) – and yet as Sam, determined, resourceful and fearless, will do anything not just to survive but to get home to abandoned infant Amy, her engagements with what the two women refer to as ‘It’ (Laurence Saunders) will gradually expose a truly pathetic specimen of manhood whose invisibility masks a broader inconspicuousness, insignificance and misogyny born of gynophobia. Like Berenice’s ex-boyfriend, he is emasculated, and like Sam’s ex-husband, he buckles under pressure. He might get off on frightening, overpowering and destroying women, but he is not equipped to cope with the kind of female strength and ingenuity that Sam has in spades. And his absence only adds to her presence.

There are things in Stalked that do not work. The business with the armed drone – supersensitive to all visible movement, yet somehow letting in a trespasser undetected – is absurdly inconsistent, and the killer seems content to leave his captives alone and unobserved for long periods of time for little obvious reason beyond narrative convenience. Yet where Stalked is most effective is as a corrective battle of the sexes, pitting open female empowerment and maternal might against a man whose own chokehold over others is rooted entirely in his ability to hide like a little boy.

Stalked was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019.