Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Once upon a time there was a video nasty about a novelist struggling with writer's block who retreated to a country house only to encounter problems of a more sinister kind. Made on a desperately low budget, it wasn't very good, but producer Jonathan Sothcott thought there was the germ of a really strong idea there, so he bought the rights and reworked it. The result is less gore-splattered thriller and more psychological horror. It's a gothic drama in the best tradition of British genre work; it's also well made, well acted, and genuinely creepy.

Anna Brecon is the novelist, Paula. We know that she has spent time in psychiatric care; she has flashbacks to some unknown horror. "Get away from it all," advises her publisher, which at face value seems like a good idea, but once we see the creepy old country house she's retreating to, we begin to have second thoughts. "This is an old house; it has a lot of ghosts," says the helpful yet sinister housekeeper. Paula thinks she sees unfamiliar figures flitting in and out of dark doorways. Staircases creak when there's nobody there. It's a relief, then, when Linda arrives to take care of her. Linda is strong, confident, personable. She's a PA sent by the publisher, she explains. She's there to take care of everything. By this point the viewer will be as nervous as Paula, and it's easy to be attracted to Linda's strong, reassuring presence.

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Of course, all is not as it seems.

What makes this film work so well is the effectiveness with which it preserves the ambiguity of the situation for most of its running time. Is Linda really who she claims to be? Could she be a spy sent by the journalist who is prying around? Is she a frustrated author, taking advantage of Paula's situation to advance her own work? There are hints of sexual attraction that make us question the motives behind the two women's increasing intimacy, though Paula seems far too fragile and dependent to enter a relationship on fair terms. When Paula phones her publisher, we wait for the moment when Linda will be revealed as an imposter - and when it doesn't come, the mystery only grows deeper.

It's rare to see a horror film with two such strong roles for women. Anna Brecon is convincing as the numb, traumatised Paula, but it's really Jane March's film. When she emerged onto the acting scene in the early Nineties she appeared in a series of exploitative roles that left her disillusioned with acting; would she ever be recognised as more than just the latest celluloid sex object? Here she shows that she's a force to be reckoned with in a performance that recalls the classic horror roles of Bette Davis. To say more would be to give too much away, but it's formidable work, and if there's any justice in the world, she'll be top of casting directors' lists for similar roles in the future.

Despite all of this talent and good work, Stalker does unravel rather rapidly towards the end, revealing its undistinguished origins. There's a twist that many viewers will spot a mile off, and which perhaps shouldn't matter as much as it does, but the exposition is crudely handled and tension dissipates as comic horror comes to the fore. There's a sense that the story has lost its internal conviction. Still, there are more chills to come in the final sequence. This is a flawed but powerful film - let's hope it heralds the resurgence of British horror that we've all been waiting for.

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2010
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A struggling novelist retreats to her remote country home to work, but the PA who turns up to help her may have an agenda of her own.
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Director: Martin Kemp

Writer: Phillip Barron, James Kenelm Clarke

Starring: Anna Brecon, Jane March, Jennifer Matter, Colin Salmon, Linda Hayden, Billy Murray

Year: 2010

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: UK


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