Tag: stalker

In the City of Sylvia

In the City of Sylvia (2007)
★★ / ★★★★

A young man (Xavier Lafitte) in, presumably, his twenties met a girl (Pilar López de Ayala) in Strasbourg, France six years ago. Ever since their encounter, he couldn’t get her out of his mind. The young artist was back in Strasbourg and he hoped to cross paths with the same girl by hanging out in an outdoor café. If there was anything to admire about “En la ciudad de Sylvia,” it would be its sheer audacity. The pacing was deliberately slow, the dialogue was minimal, and the lead character was somewhat of a creeper. He was inspired by women. He liked to watch their body language as they conversed with their friends, the way their lips curled just so when they sipped coffee, and the intensity of their spontaneous laughter during tête-à-têtes. The camera was his eyes and we were subjected to watch with him. When he became fixated on a special image, like a man on the foreground and a woman on the background forming an illusion of a kiss, he sketched on his book. He was an observer. And as an observer, there was an air of detachment about him. I enjoyed the contrast in that the film was shot in natural light and much of it being a bit of a fantasy. Although the young man’s predilection for stalking could happen in the real world, no one noticed and called him out for staring. Perhaps it’s a European thing, but if I saw a person staring at me and I began to feel uncomfortable, I would move as far away as possible or, if left no other choice, confront him in public. But the guy was supposed to be in love with the girl and I couldn’t help but go along with it. In some ways, I was convinced that his intentions were pure. For instance, when he finally saw her since their last meeting, he looked at her with a certain serenity and he held himself with just the right amount of happiness. It was like watching a lost child who was so relieved to have found his mother. It was interesting that there was a possibility that there was something wrong about the guy but there wasn’t enough evidence for us to know for sure. As he stalked her through the labyrinthine alley, he just didn’t get the hint that she was aware that she was being followed. Why not make things simple and just say, “Hey, do you remember me? We met six years ago in a bar.” Shyness wasn’t an excuse. There was a scene in which showed him having no trouble making conversation with a beautiful woman in a bar. “In the City of Sylvia” thrived on its conceit which made its offbeat structure challenging. For instance, there was no obvious dramatic or character arc. But not all movies have to contain such things. Fortunately, it wasn’t difficult to get into its flow. Written and directed by José Luis Guerín, “Dans la ville de Sylvia” featured stunning beauty in terms of location and people in front of the camera. I especially liked the shot with the girl’s hair being blown all over the place by the erratic wind. I wanted to take a picture. But the reward after sitting through extended shots felt half-empty and transient. With films like its type, I always ask what makes it worth telling. I’m not sure I have an answer.


Stalker (1979)
★ / ★★★★

Rumor went around that there was a place called the Zone which had the power to make anyone’s deepest desires to become reality. Stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky) was a chosen man. It was his job to escort those interested in making a wish to the mysterious location. Despite his wife’s (Alisa Frejndlikh) disapproval, Stalker accepted to take Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn) and Scientist (Nikolai Grinko) past the guards. If caught, they were to be shot because the Zone was a forbidden place for the unimportant. Based on the novel by Arkadiy Strugatskiy, I found “Stalker” pretentious because it dared to bring up big questions about life, like man’s connection to his occupation, our place in an increasingly complex and desperate world, and whether selflessness truly existed, but it shied away from attempting to answer its questions. We were subjected to watching the unexciting adventure of three men who supposedly symbolized mankind’s wish of finding the elusive truth. Of what? We never knew because the screenplay did not bother with specificity. I don’t mind abstraction but there comes a point where I have to feel like what I’m seeing is worth my time. There was no reason for the movie to run for about two hours and forty minutes. There were many interminable scenes, supposedly meditative, which took me out of the experience instead of welcoming me to dive in. For example, when the three men (barely) successfully escaped the guards and were about to enter the Zone by means of a dilapidated mini-tram, the camera lingered on the men’s faces. If Andrey Tarkovskiy, the director, expected us to sympathize with the characters or try to guess what they were thinking, it was a significant miscalculation. We knew nothing of the characters’ respective backgrounds that would warrant such a meaningful introspection. However, I enjoyed the way the filmmakers used colors to convey contradiction. The picture started off with a dark sepia-like shade. The depressing look reflected the unhappy people controlled by, from what it seemed like, an unjust government. When the trio reached the Zone, the color green was prevalent. The colors were sharper, more noticeable, and alive. But there was a catch. Other than the chirping birds, buzzing bugs, and fish splashing about, there was no human in sight. The contradiction worked because it showed instead of using words. Unfortunately, the philosophical pandering eventually took center stage. I felt like I was being lectured by intellectuals who wanted to show off how smart they were. I was so detached, I caught myself thinking what I wanted to add to my grocery list and what to do after the movie finished. I can sit through movies that last for four hours or longer. Length is not a problem if there’s meat in the screenplay. I liked that “Stalker” challenged me, but there’s a problem (and a slap of irony) when even the characters decided to take a nap. I was jealous. I didn’t take a nap through the entire ordeal.

Julia’s Eyes

Julia’s Eyes (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

During a neighborhood blackout, Sara (Belén Rueda) stood in the living room talking to someone but we couldn’t see who was there in the shadows. When lightning came, the corner that she seemed to be transfixed on revealed no person despite flashes of a polaroid camera directed toward her earlier on. As the camera focused on her face, we saw that she was blind. Attempting to escape her invisible tormentor, she ended up the basement. She climbed a stool, put a rope around her neck, and a second person knocked the stool from under her. Julia (also played by Rueda), Sara’s twin sister, felt a choking sensation while at her job in the observatory. She just knew something was wrong. Written by Guillem Morales and Oriol Paulo, “Los ojos de Julia” took inspiration from Terence Young’s “Wait Until Dark” and made it much more sinister. It was suspenseful because from the moment Julia suspected foul play, she felt compelled to gather clues that would prove her sister was murdered. It didn’t help that she shared her sister’s medical condition: extreme stressed diminished her eye sight. Ironically, the more knowledge she attained, the less she saw clearly, thus the less reliable her testimony. The best scenes were of Julia’s interactions with people who knew her deceased sister. For instance, when she visited a home for the blind, they smelled her presence… and of a man’s. But she came alone. She aggressively looked behind her and there was, in fact, a man watching her every move. Similar scenes worked in two ways. First, it served as a foreshadowing of what was eventually going to happen to the lead character. It should come to no surprise that she was going to lose her sight completely. If she was to survive, she needed to learn how to depend on her other senses and instinct. Secondly, it worked for the chase sequence that came right after the realization that she was being followed. We saw most of the action through Julia’s eyes. The majority of her peripheral vision was already gone so being forced into her perspective was awkward and claustrophobic. There was an effortless horror in it. What if the killer decided to attack from the side? She had no chance. Much to the dismay of her husband, Isaac (Lluís Homar), it seemed as though there was nothing he could do to stop Julia’s obsession. In here, the romance wasn’t utilized as currency to simply buy minutes until the next scary moment. What they had was tender and believable. I felt as respected as an audience because we really got to experience their history and what they meant to one another without necessarily using words. Their relationship held weight and it was, in a way, the picture’s emotional core though we weren’t always aware of it. The villain was truly monstrous. A hotel janitor (Joan Dalmau) described his motivation so perfectly, I almost began to feel bad for the silent stalker. Although we saw glimpses of him early on in the film, it wasn’t until much later that we observed his face dominating every inch of the camera. When he screamed at Julia without restraint, watching him through her eyes, it felt like such an invasion of my personal space, I wanted to push his face away for being so close. “Julia’s Eyes,” directed by Guillem Morales, skillfully placed us into Julia’s nightmarish experience without it being contrived. Other movies of its kind pale in comparison even under bright lights.

The Roommate

The Roommate (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Sara (Minka Kelly), a freshman in college, moved into her dorm but her roommate hadn’t move in yet so she decided to go to a frat party with the fun-loving Tracy (Alyson Michalka). When she got back, Rebecca (Leighton Meester) was waiting for her in the dark. A couple of days later, Rebecca began to get clingy. She went through her unsuspecting roommate’s possessions when she was alone in the room, waited for hours on end until Sara got back, and even answered Sara’s private calls. When Sara wanted to hang out with other people, Rebecca would mope about. She just wanted to be Sara’s only friend. Directed by Christian E. Christiansen, what “The Roommate” needed was inspiration and a spark of originality. It was stuck in tried-and-true formula of roommate from hell pictures and I was far from impressed. I was surprised that it didn’t take advantage of social networking websites, like Facebook and Twitter or even a blog, when Rebecca wanted to know more about Sara. I found it unbelievable that every time the psycho roommate wanted to know more about her prey, she would just ask in person. Sara, supposedly an aspiring designer, someone who could think outside the box, almost made it too easy for someone to be obsessed with her. It wasn’t creepy and so the momentum failed to build in a steady manner. The picture had many distractions but the one that tested my patience was Sara’s relationship with a frat boy by day/drummer by night boyfriend named Stephen (Cam Gigandet). There were too many make-out sessions and moments when they would look into each other’s eyes and smiled. It felt like some moldy, cheesy, unfunny romantic comedy. I expected them to be partners in researching what was wrong with Rebecca when Sara began to suspect that perhaps there was something seriously wrong with her roommate. Only toward the end did I feel like Sara was truly in danger and that, too, was disappointing because of the way the final confrontation was shot. Not only was it dark, the camera shook relentlessly and it was difficult to see who was throwing a punch. It didn’t help that Kelly and Meester looked very similar. Naturally, the two girls tried to fight over a gun. I didn’t care who would grab it first; I was too pre-occupied with disbelief that Sonny Mallhi, the writer, couldn’t come up with a better weapon for the two women to fight over. I got the impression that the filmmakers didn’t even attempt to give us something new and that upset me because I felt insulted. “The Roommate” was unabashedly lackadaisical and it was a rather empty experience.


Management (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

At first I was put off with how “Management” started because the movie essentially begged the audiences to buy that a romance could potentially happen between a beautiful art saleswoman (Jennifer Aniston) and a creepy, stalker-like motel night manager (Steve Zahn). If someone I met once from across the country decided to visit me, my reaction would be fear, confusion and I would probably call the police. But Aniston’s character decided to go along for the ride with some reservations, only to realize later on that she might be falling in love with her stalker. That doesn’t sound very romantic but what started off as annoying to me became something bearable and charming toward the end. As offbeat as the film was, I liked its progression and its portrait of a woman who wanted to give so much to everyone who was in need that she neglected her own needs. I could see why she likened to Zahn’s character, as weird as he was, because he had a child-like quality that I, too, look for in a partner. The intimate moments they shared like having a simple dinner as he would ask her questions about her state of mind, her job, and her dreams for the future solified the fact that the picture wanted to be something more. This is essentially a character-driven film that was bogged down by the comedic scenes that were trying way too hard, when in actuality the best and funniest scenes were the ones when it didn’t try to impress. I give credit to movies that strive to be good even if they don’t quite reach the level where they should be. And “Management,” written and directed by Stephen Belber, happens to be one of those movies. If one is into watching damaged characters with strong convictions, I give this film a recommendation. However, I must warn others who are not a fan of smaller, more off-beat movies to stay away because it would most likely frustrate them from the sometimes lack of common sense of some characters. Some might argue that not everyone makes the same choice in given situations so the issue of “common sense” is subjective. I took that into consideration, decided to run with how everything was unfolding, and it turned out to be pretty interesting.


Halloween (1978)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“I met him fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”

John Carpenter’s 1978 independent “Halloween” masterpiece will forever be one of my favorite films. With such a microscale budget, Carpenter, the production team and the actors managed to accomplish so much. “Halloween” stars Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode who, among with her friends Lynda (P.J. Soles) and Annie (Nancy Loomis), was stalked by a masked killer named Michael Myers (Tony Moran). Michael killed his sister when he was six years old and was sent to a psychiatric hospital under the care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Michael’s madness became much worse over the years and he escaped the night before Halloween 1978 to return to his hometown in Haddonfield, Illinois.

This picture invented the slasher flick that plagued the 1980’s because of its craft. The first scene of this film was an absolute milestone because we saw Michael kill his sister through his eyes as he wore a clown mask. The way he grabbed the knife from the kitchen drawer, walked up the stairs, and went for the kill was terrifying because it was done by a child without any sort of reason (or emotion) behind his actions. After the murder, when his parents discovered him with the knife, it looked as if he had no idea what he had done, like he was possessed by the devil.

Fast-forward to 1978, we got to meet Laurie and two of her friends. Laurie, obviously different from the other two because she’s actually interested in books and not so much interested in boys (or maybe her shyness often got the best of her), was established as the protagonist. She cared about the children she babysat (unlike the other two) by letting them have fun on Halloween, such as carving pumpkins, making popcorn, and watching scary rated R movies on TV, as long as they remained safe and refrained from scaring each other. In broad daylight, we were able to see Michael following them around–appearing in an area one minute and disappearing the next–something that slasher movies of today rarely do. (Not all stalkers only come out at night after all.) There were also very amusing scenes between the three friends, which I thought was a good move from Carpenter because it made them very relatable. That was important because we all know that Michael would eventually go after them. Why was he obsessed with the three girls? We don’t exactly know. Maybe he saw qualities of sister in them or maybe not. To me, that’s why I thought the picture worked: it retained elements of mystery and it was up to us to draw our own conclusions.

The soundtrack was something I would never forget because it was downright creepy and it set the tone of certain scenes. A particular track was specific to an event that was about to transpire so we came to know what to expect (a stalking scene, a false alarm, or going for the kill). However, the brilliance of it was we don’t know when exactly the scare or “Boo!” moment would happen. When they finally do happen, they come with maximum effect due to excellent timing. Unlike most modern horror films, the soundtrack in this movie was used as little as possible. It also means that Carpenter knew when to use silence. Sometimes silence meant nothing but sometimes silence meant something really bad was about to happen.

My absolute favorite scene was the showdown between Laurie and Michael in the last twenty minutes. It still gives me the chills whenever I watch Laurie crossing the street to go into the house where two of her friends were murdered. Since the lights were all off yet she was getting phone calls from the house pretty much all night, at first she thought they were playing a joke on her. But when she finally reached the bedroom, she realized that none of it was a joke. While she was busy entertaining the kids across the street, Michael was busy with the body count. There was also that scene when she finally got out from the neighbor’s house (not an easy feat considering Michael blocked the exits) as she tried screaming for help but no one would open their doors to offer her refuge. She then had no choice but to go back to the house where she was babysitting… but she couldn’t find the keys in her pocket.

There’s a plethora of social commentaries that could be drawn from this film, which were immortalized as clichés in future slasher flicks like “Friday the 13th,” “Prom Night,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and the like. However, I’m not going to mention them all here because I think it’s best for you to try to see them yourself. But I do want to mention how impressed I was with how the concept of the “boogeyman” evolved from a simple folklore (when the kids tried to scare each other) to a personification of evil that one cannot kill (when Laurie tried to kill Michael time and time again but he always managed to “return from the dead”). The concept of the boogeyman finally culminated in the last minute of the film when Laure conceded, “It WAS the boogeyman” and the movie showed us familiar places with Michael breathing in the background–places that have been touched by evil and would never be the same again.

For those who have seen a plethora of movies, “Halloween” is almost always on their list of being one of the best horror films ever made. It’s not difficult to understand why considering how much it impacted the collective media unconscious. I consider it one of the best movies I’ve seen, not just in the horror genre, because of how it made me feel when I first watched it. There was a certain darkness to it that shook me to the core and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. And when I see it again from time to time on television as Halloween nears, I may smile during certain scenes and not look as scared as before. But the same thoughts regarding “What if I was in her shoes?” quickly flood my mind and I can’t help but feel affected. Though it may not scare you because you’re used to seeing blood delivered in gallons in modern horror movies (personally, I think blood is just gross and not at all scary), it would most likely earn your respect for being well ahead of its time in terms of craft and context.


Obsessed (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Directed by Steven Shill, “Obsessed” was a whole lot of nothing. The supposed story was that a temp named Lisa (Ali Larter) started to flirt with her boss (Idris Elba), but he didn’t realize that she was essentially a crazy stalker. At first it was sort of harmless–a look here, a glance there–but it eventually turned ugly–date rape drug here, attempted suicide there. Elba’s character stupidly kept everything that was happening around him a secret from his wife (Beyoncé Knowles) so he looked guilty when everything came out in the open. I honestly did not care less about the drama behind the characters’ lives. I just wanted to see Larter and Knowles fight it out in the end. Almost all of the characters here were unlikable: Elba, arguably, did send the wrong signals to Lisa which prompted her to think that he wanted her so he was not entirely blameless, Knowles was a suffocating and clingy housewife, Elba’s co-workers and supposed best friend did not know when to be serious and I felt like I was watching a bunch of high school pricks whenever I saw them on screen, and, well, we were supposed to hate Larter because she was the villain, but I hardly think she did that much of a good job either. As far as comparisons to “Fatal Attractions” goes, Larter did not come close to Glenn Close’s level of delusion and insanity. In some parts, I thought it almost became a farce of lunatic femme fatales because of all the unintentionally funny one-liners. I think it took itself way to seriously to the point where it collapsed on its own attempt to entertain. But even I have to admit the the trailers got me interested; it looked intense and it seemed to have a lot going for it. It goes without saying that I’m not going to give this a recommendation. Even then I think I’m being lenient on it because I’ve seen really good films prior to watching it. I can just imagine what I would have written if I saw “Obsessed” on a bad day.