– by David Morgan-Brown
In our age of Australian cinema and movie-making now, we are forced to make low-budget films that often require minimal use of different locations, actors, special effects, and any other costly production aspects. Although some flexibility on the budget can certainly help with the wild imagination of filmmakers to the screen, this sort of restraint can be beneficial – as is the case with StalkHer, the low budget has influenced and emphasised the writing and acting of this film more than anything else, and those are two key areas of any film to put this much attention on.
Jack (John Jarratt) is, as the title may suggest, a stalker. He hangs out at the front of Emily’s (Kaarin Fairfax) house, watching her unsuspectingly as she goes about her night. But the tables very quickly turn when Jack breaks into her house, only to be tasered by a ready Emily, then tied up and, for most of the rest of the film, is kept hostage by her strange and unpredictable desires and vengeance.
Yet Jack doesn’t play victim too easily – whilst secretively attempting to free himself, he spits abuses at Emily, which she spits back, turning their dialogue into a battle of the sexes, and this sure is an acidic (yet ultimately even-handed) discussion on the sexual and romantic desires and expectations of these two heterosexuals.
This is a two-hander between the physically restrained (yet emotionally and verbally unrestrained) Jack and the exhaustingly exuberant, yet shocking Emily – this sort of chemistry causes such explosions of passion, not only of love, but of hatred and torture (both sadistic and masochistic).
The plot is condensed down to simply two people in one room, one of whom is physically apprehended. Similar conceit to another Australian production, Saw, though this is even more bare, with only the flashbacks to hospital scenes where the two work and the occasional fantasy sequence interrupting this single-set plot. This ‘bottled’ film keeps the tensions high, and audiences can be as sophisticated and perceptive as they want, but they’ll continuously be tripped up by the film’s twists and turns.
It’s quite an ask of any audience (even seasoned horror fans) to sit through two people of opposite genders shouting insults at each other for nearly 90 minutes, and some pieces of dialogue did feel reiterative, like they’re just padding out this very small story out to a feature-length time. Yet it succeeds for the most part because the acting of these two characters is so damn good and their chemistry is so sizzling, yet incredibly volatile.
It’s hard to pin down StalkHer’s genre because it tours in so many. It’s not quite funny enough to be a comedy, not quite scary enough to be a horror, yet I think romantic-thriller would be apt. This is a film that’ll leave you shaking in your skin, but with a heart full of warmth. Go see it with someone you love.
Read our interview with stars/directors John Jarratt and Kaarin Fairfax here.