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AICN UK: A Review Of STALKER!!

 

Last month, I interviewed prolific British producer Jonathan Sothcott. Among the varied crop of his films that he discussed, he spoke of one more passionately and proudly than others, and that was STALKER, the feature directorial debut of his Black and Blue Films partner, Martin Kemp.

Originally conceived as a remake of '70s video nasty EXPOSE, also known as THE HOUSE ON STRAW HILL, the project ended up moving in a different direction under Kemp's creative auspices and evolved into something new. Something that, for all intents and purposes, isn't strictly a horror film as you may expect from its origins, but more of a psychological thriller that plays with genre conventions to keep you guessing as the story unfolds and begins to take unexpected turns.

 

  

Paula Martin (Anna Brecon), an author who shot to success with her best-selling debut novel, retreats from the hustle and bustle of London to concentrate on writing her second book at her uncle's grand old country mansion. Still unable to escape the distractions of everyday life, however, Martin struggles with her work and resorts to employing the services of a personal assistant (Jane March) at the behest of her agent, only for the situation to degenerate further into a twisted, bloody hell.

Kemp has enjoyed great success in the entertainment industry for three decades, first as the bassist of Spandau Ballet, one of the biggest bands of the '80s, and then as an acclaimed actor starring in the likes of the brilliant THE KRAYS with his brother Gary in 1990, and television's popular EASTENDERS from 1998-2002. But Kemp's recent turn as a writer-director, beginning with the short KARMA MAGNET and continuing with STALKER, is one to be admired.

 

 

Atmospheric, eerie and gripping, STALKER is a very promising first feature that builds from a low-key drama in its first act to brutal, violent horror by its climax. There are even little hints at the supernatural throughout that all fall into place towards the film's denouement, each of which have a heightened sense of effect thanks to the stunning mansion location. It looks like the perfect candidate for a haunted house movie; like a building with walls that have seen so much and would have so many stories to tell. Across the placid lake and within the wonderfully gothic exterior of the house are all the classic tropes of a classic chiller: creaking floorboards and whispering walls, yet, ostensibly, it isn't that kind of film. And that isn't to say that this is a movie with an identity crisis, because that couldn't be further from the truth, but it's such subtle – and perhaps misleading – hints as these that push the boundaries of what defines thrillers and horror films, and work towards the clear and competent development of the story. The strongest theme of STALKER is identity, and the pieces that collectively enforce that have been so cleverly put together.

Storytelling aside, the film boasts an impressive British cast, Brecon especially, who lends well to a nicely defined character, and excellent cinematography by director of photography James Friend. It is a highly effective debut and I greatly look forward to Kemp's next effort as writer and/or director.

 

 

STALKER hits DVD in the UK on January 30.  Pre-order now.

 

Britgeek

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Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 19, 2011, 3:04 p.m. CST

    Oh.

    by Pawprint

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 3:05 p.m. CST

    Almost Sounds A Bit Like...

    by Pawprint

    Straw Dogs...

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 3:27 p.m. CST

    I was wondering what ever happened to Jane March.

    by Fremen

    I recently saw her again in Color of Night (smoking hot body, but fucked up film) and have fond memories of her in The Lover. I didn't remember anything from her after that. Good to know she's still acting. (and we might get to see her naughty bits again)

  • Or is it AICN policy to just review crap 'straight to dvd' movies that grant you an interview, even my local paper has reviewed TTSS.

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 3:49 p.m. CST

    It's my policy...

    by Adam Stephen Kelly

    to support great and truly independent British films made for very little money!

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 4:03 p.m. CST

    this is a joke, right?

    by JAMF

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 4:04 p.m. CST

    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy...

    by nightvip

    Would love to get some AICN thoughts on what is for me film of the year so far... not sure if you guys have access to it yet... but if not we should get some UK opinion on it... it's taken essentially the greatest working English actors right now, bar Mckellan and said "right bring your A game" and without showy, glamour performances you have Oldman, Hardy, Cumberbatch, Hurt, Strong, Firth, Jones and Hinds doing incredible work in a master directors hand. Exceptional film making.

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 4:24 p.m. CST

    I found that stunning location

    by Col. Tigh-Fighter

    16th century Elizabethan manor house with moat :) got it for a bargain for them too ;)

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 4:31 p.m. CST

    Wow. Tarkovsky's really let himself go.

    by StarWarsRedux

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 4:46 p.m. CST

    Where is the Zone?

    by blakindigo

    Boychiks…

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 4:48 p.m. CST

    Britgeek has something of a pass...

    by UltimaRex

    As he is supposed to sniff out the UK talent that you wouldn't hear of otherwise. The main guys do not. Seriously, are your collective minds that blown by TTSS?

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 4:56 p.m. CST

    ultimarex

    by david starling

    YES!! WE ARE!! Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is seriously bloody awesome. There's a huge heavyweight cast in there, and not one bloody person is wasted - I'd say the biggest standout performance is Mark Strong (who has been underrated for far too long - well, no more!!), and the adaptation of the book is given some amazing respect. Its a slow burner of a movie (and so it should be), but it consumes, and delivers in great handfuls. Its a major tonic to my tastes, after being force-fed Jason bloody Bourne!! All I hope for now, is that they shoot more of the Smiley books if this is a success (and I hope it is), and the accursed remake people do not try to leap on the remake/copycat bandwagon, and try to do The Ipcress File - LEAVE IT ALONE!!

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 5:10 p.m. CST

    TTSS is something of a let down...

    by spader

    If you know the source material well. You would be hard pushed to find a more hardcore Le Carre nut than myself and despite the film being wonderfully shot with a top rate cast and great script it falls short of the mark. At two hours long it is simply not long enough to do the story justice. --some mild spoilers below but no big plot reaveals-- It's too compressed and as a result the beginning gets close to a mess lacking in real suspense, there is very little character development (you will know nothing about Roy Bland beyond the fact he has a Welsh accent), and they don't spend enough time working on motives for the potential moles - with the ending confessional being very hollow as a result. The ending Julio Inglesias montage is stylish yet silly and throws the tone right off giving the film an upbeat end, which the book and TV series absolutely do not have. There are also strange character changes - an extra character is made gay and the homoeroticism is amped up a lot. One of several things which is done in somewhat a ham-fisted way. Jerry Westerby (the protagonist in the sequel The Honourable Schoolboy) is written out and his name is given to another character - called Sam in the book and series. This is very odd and means they cannot make the second book in the trilogy into a film. It was a very odd and stupid thing to do. If the film had an extra 30 mins of run time to do things properly it could have been a great film, but as a result it is just a very good film with several flaws. Stick with the TV series which is simply masterful and although not as stylish and slick, is much richer, deeper and engrossing. The cast is also for the most part better than the film, which does have an excellent cast - don't get me wrong, but cast of the original TV series is truly incredible.

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 5:12 p.m. CST

    To be honest I was talking about Harry and co.

    by UltimaRex

    But your input is basically what they'll say anyway. So thank you.

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 5:37 p.m. CST

    I imagine the AICN TTSS review...

    by spader

    will be just like all the others, a rapturous gush, but lacking the elegance of the mainstream British press. I have yet to see a review that covers the issues I found with it.

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 6:06 p.m. CST

    LOL Starwarsredux

    by chubasqueiro

    If there is one hell of a film witch doesn´t need a single fucking alteration is Tarkovsky´s Stalker.

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 6:22 p.m. CST

    regardless of whether TTSS is a let down or not

    by DonLogan

    it's the biggest movie coming out of the UK right now and AICN British correspondent doesn't even cover it, instead he's covering straight -to-dvd z-movies starring ex-Eastender cast members. It was the same with The Inbetweeners movie last month, a film which had the biggest opening for a UK comedy ever and hardly a mention, never mind a review. I know some of our American friends would like to read about films coming from the UK that either they don't have access to yet, or those that are a little more of an unknown entity in the US before they reach their shores. Not this drivel. This is the kind of shit they show on True Movies. I understand that there's always a call for someone to cover these types of films but perhaps AICN should find another Brit to review the films that matter. I'm sure there's some talented, passionate writers around here up for the task.

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 6:27 p.m. CST

    Spader, I feel the same regarding the length of the film

    by IWasInJuniorHighDickhead

    but i'd resigned myself to this a while back and accepted that we were going to lose quite a lot. But still, what we're left with is bloody great. Nothing will ever beat the original but if Oldman & co had been given the running time of the miniseries they'd have given it a good run. Even knowing the original inside and out, I had such a good time with it. Takes me back to when films had much greater power over me.

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 6:36 p.m. CST

    So it's not a remake of the weird russian film STALKER?

    by sweeneydave

    He had psychic powers used to navigate through a radioactive wasteland where the "safe" path is constantly changing and his job was to lead people to the center where they can make a wish. That was a freaking weird movie. Hypnotizing, like staring at a flickering candle. Sometimes the flame would move LOTS, but most of the time the movements were very subtle. And yet, I couldn't stop watching. And it was like 3 hours long. And NOTHING HAPPENED.

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 7:10 p.m. CST

    TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY...

    by johnnyrandom

    ...while a great film, is not fucking released in the US yet. Hence no reviews. Get that through your thick skulls.

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 7:55 p.m. CST

    What is this?

    by Dazz

    A FUCKING EPISODE OF CUNTING HOLLYOAKS?!

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 8:55 p.m. CST

    So many writers in movies...

    by Fish Tank

    need to "get away from it all". Must be hard working in the city.

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 10:37 p.m. CST

    finally

    by CherryValance

    A Britishmun to deal with all the cries for TTSS reviews. lol

  • Sept. 19, 2011, 11:28 p.m. CST

    Bill Murray is the stalker?

    by Wookie_Weed

    Nice

  • Sept. 20, 2011, 1:11 a.m. CST

    sweenydave

    by BloodiedFox

    That already got remade as a computer game, and a pretty good one at that

  • Sept. 20, 2011, 2:24 a.m. CST

    "Stalker" was Tarkovsky masterpiece

    by Lourdes Galan

    The new one is another crappy movie.

  • Sept. 20, 2011, 4:47 a.m. CST

    Tarkovsky's

    by Adam Stephen Kelly

    film has no relation to this STALKER. People should probably read before commenting.

  • Sept. 20, 2011, 4:54 a.m. CST

    It's good to Stalk

    by alexander

    And yes, Tarkovsky's film is pretty much a master piece, and he had to film it twice.

  • Sept. 20, 2011, 6:19 a.m. CST

    Weigh In

    by FatSeagal

    I'm surprised people think Tinker, Tailor wasn't long enough - I thought it was about 30 minutes too long and dull to boot. Great cast though. My overall opinion: Rubbish. It's actually good to see little known films gain some spotlight, especially for new directors. If you want a review of Tinker, Tailor then go and visit one of the other hundreds of sites with reviews.

  • Sept. 20, 2011, 8:39 a.m. CST

    Billy Murray not Bill Murray is in Stalker

    by Col. Tigh-Fighter

    Billy Murray is a British tv/soap actor

  • Sept. 20, 2011, 11:15 a.m. CST

    No one has mentioned Spandau Ballet yet.

    by SminkyPinky

    There. I did. Deed done. Onwards. And who the fuck are you people to be telling britgeekaicn how to do his job? You bunch of impossible to please whiners. TTSP is getting rave reviews from EVERYWHERE. Look it out for yourselves. I'm sure AICN will have a review up when they are good and ready. So many people complain about small UK indies getting no exposure (which they SORELY need) and when they do it's not what you want. Get a life, you infantile little brats.

  • Sept. 20, 2011, 11:47 a.m. CST

    the TTSS people

    by CherryValance

    have been all over ever talkback begging for reviews. Not just this one. It's annoying. I'd love to see it now. Then I'd happily review it for them. XD

  • Sept. 20, 2011, 11:50 a.m. CST

    TTSS

    by SminkyPinky

    i might convince my wife to come out and see it tonight. Been looking forward to it for a while. And I see britgeekaicn did actually mention Spandau Ballet in his review. Must have missed that bit. But it still kind of amuses me that the bassist from that group is making movies now (as well as being blown up in Eastenders).

  • Sept. 20, 2011, 12:15 p.m. CST

    stalker

    by foree forehead

    and i think a bunch of the crew on the real Stalker actually died later from radiation exposure they received while filming. it was around some abandoned estonian(?) plant if memory serves. a real deathtrap zone indeed.

  • Sept. 20, 2011, 12:17 p.m. CST

    re: "So it's not a remake of the weird russian film STALKER?"

    by buggerbugger

    It's a remake of 'Exposé' (AKA 'House on Straw Hill') from 1976. Or at least it started out as one.

  • Sept. 20, 2011, 1:22 p.m. CST

    Stalker

    by fitzcarraldo2

    Oh thank God. I thought they were doing an inevitably shitty remake of the Tarkovsky classic there.

  • Sept. 20, 2011, 8:45 p.m. CST

    Martin Kemp was awesome in "The Krays"...

    by Joaquin_Ondamoon

  • Sept. 20, 2011, 8:46 p.m. CST

    Fucking Edit!!

    by Joaquin_Ondamoon

    Didn't they nail some poor bastard's head to the floor in that film (and in real life!)?