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.
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