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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Love Stalker: If David Lynch Made a Rom-Com...

I've been well-acquainted with the raw talent of micro-budget filmmaker Matt Glasson since I reviewed his 2007 featurette The Family Tie. I titled that review "If Dali Made a Revenge Flick"--a response to the absurdist lens through which Glasson and co-director Scott Greene interpreted the classic '70s exploitation subgenre. This time out, I was struck by another bold and jarring juxtaposition. Only now, I was viewing a much more polished product, and most importantly of all, a feature-length film.

Love Stalker is the feature directing, writing and acting debut of Glasson, who has the kind of presence one can easily imagine being put to use at some point on a much grander stage. For now, until someone with some serious scratch wakes up and realizes what he's capable of, I'll be content to watch him do his thing with movies like this for as long as he chooses.

Although the film may not really be horror by any stretch of the imagination, I'm giving it a pass and reviewing it here because of the surprising manner in which it disturbed me, and because of the psychological terrain it explores. Glasson and co-director/screenwriter Bowls MacLean have done something quite daring here in deconstructing the modern romantic comedy to expose its sinister, discomforting underbelly. They have also endeavored to demonstrate exactly how someone becomes a stalker, which I found to be the film's most fascinating conceit.

Pete, our main character, is what modern parlance would label a "player"--a 30-something hipster whose sole purpose for existing seems to be to bed as many women as possible. Until he meets Stephanie (played by the lovely Rachel Chapman) and falls in love, only to have his love spurned once she discovers his amorous past. This leads Pete down a dark path, as he attempts to "win her back" using methods he's observed in popular romantic comedies.

From a structural standpoint, this is where the film achieves eminent watchability. What starts out as a light-hearted Swingers-esque romp in which Pete and his schlemazal buddy Tony joke their way through singles life in St. Louis jarringly shifts gears to become an unsettling examination of existential desperation and loss. Along the way, it makes some pretty biting commentary on the entire rom-com subgenre it seeks to both lampoon and dissect.

While the chemistry of the ensemble cast may not achieve the levels of a Swingers or an Office Space, it nevertheless is a cut above what one would expect from such a low-budget, first-time feature. Glasson does a fine job of making Pete a layered, wounded character who is at the same time charismatic and likeable despite his creepy transformation. We get to know him as a person, and can thus totally understand how and why he chooses such an irrational course of action. The one blemish of note is derived from a puzzling, dreamlike scene in which Pete is grilled by two ambiguous undercover cops in his apartment--it's sloppily paced, clumsily acted, and worst of all, unnecessary. But thankfully, it is a minor exception in an otherwise well-built motion picture.

The cinematography of Bart Elfrink and Joshua Lassing is also worth mentioning. It does a fine job of both showcasing the city of St. Louis that acts as a backdrop to the proceedings, as well as assisting in the portrayal of Pete's descent into madness. For example, there's a scene in which Pete hides out in Stephanie's bedroom closet while she makes love to another man that is easily the centerpiece of the picture, with its eery focus on a single sliver of light cast across Pete's face in the dark.

In the end, the movie deconstructs its subject matter so thoroughly that we're not even sure where reality ends and fantasy begins. Who was the real stalker--jilted player Pete or cold and calculating relationship blogger Stephanie? I was even tempted to ask the question of whether or not Stephanie ever even existed in the first place.

But I'll leave you to decide that. I recommend heading over to the official Love Stalker website to learn more about the film, including how to get your hands on it for either private or public screening. I'm not one to blindly support independent cinema regardless of quality. I support good cinema--and that's what this is.

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