Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Perfect Stalker (Reel One Entertainment/Lifetime, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After From Straight A’s to XXX Lifetime reran a production from 2016 called The Perfect Stalker, which — surprise! — wasn’t written by Christine Conradt but by Bryan Dick, though the director was Conradt’s frequent collaborator Curtis James Crawford. What also makes it unusual for a Lifetime movie is that the title character doesn’t exist. Actually The Perfect Stalker might have more accurately been called The Perfect Widow, since though Conradt isn’t involved it does follow her formula of stories about people who are normal on the surface but have a deep, dark secret somewhere, and who worm their way into the lives of nice, unsuspecting people until their real natures come out and … The Perfect Stalker begins in Ohio, where Harvey Winston (Scott Gibson) is getting more and more worried about the mood swings and diva-ish outbursts of his wife Grace (Danielle Savre). The two of them attend therapy sessions together and their therapist diagnoses Grace with HPD (Histrionic Personality Disorder), and Harvey lays down the law to his wife: either she faces up to her problems and accepts “treatment” for this, or he’s leaving. Only Grace has a third alternative in mind: one afternoon, while Harvey is on a ladder fixing the wiring on a light fixture in their home, Grace sneaks over to the circuit-breaker box, turns the power back on, and electrocutes him. She’s able, apparently, to convince the police Harvey’s death was accidental, because the next we see of her she’s driving to Philadelphia (though, this being a Lifetime movie, Philadelphia is actually “played” by Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) and re-establishing herself in a nice, quiet neighborhood with a job as a legal transcriber and a rental home nearby to where Robert Harris (Jefferson Brown, who has an odd resemblance to Lyle Lovett) lives with his girlfriend Erin Stevens (Krista Morin).

Robert is a local professor and a published writer; he teaches the cultural history of the 1960’s and that’s also what his book is about — you can tell from the big peace sign on the cover — and writer Dick variously describes Harris’s book as a novel and a nonfiction history (the latter seems more likely). Of course, the moment Grace runs into Robert — she spills groceries from a blue bag in a shopping-mall parking lot and he helps her pick them up — she’s immediately smitten with him and bound and determined to do anything to get him away from Erin and in her arms (and more). Indeed, there’s a hot soft-core porn scene between Danielle Savre and Jefferson Brown — though of course it turns out only to be a fantasy of hers. Grace is helped in her campaign by a couple of factors: one is that Erin works for a major biotech company called “Mensoto” (were the producers worried that the real Monsanto would sue?) and her job calls on her to leave town a lot, which gives Robert plenty of time in that big house to himself with Grace ready and willing to comfort him in any way he might desire. Her other unwitting ally is Wayne McNeely (John Koensgen), a middle-aged neighborhood watch busybody who one night warns Grace that he’s spotted a mysterious prowler in the neighborhood. That gives Grace her big idea of how she can get Robert: she’ll tell him she’s being stalked by the prowler and she needs his help to keep from being victimized by him. At one point she even covers herself in dirt to make it look like the prowler has assaulted her. When Erin returns from one of her out-of-town trips with the news that Mensoto has offered her a major promotion but that means she’ll have to move to Baltimore, Robert is O.K. with that — “I can write anywhere, and I can teach anywhere,” he says — but, needless to say, Grace isn’t, and she corners Erin in a parking lot after dark and clubs her to death with a rock. Of course Grace is even more solicitous to Robert in his grief!

Eventually Wayne catches on that Grace isn’t exactly who she says she is — in particular, he does a Web search and finds that Grace’s late husband died in a fall from a latter, not from a long bout with brain cancer as Grace had said — and he calls Robert with the news. Unfortunately, the call comes in as Robert is doing a book signing and Grace is there, holding the leather case with his laptop and his phone — so Grace intercepts Wayne’s message and makes sure Robert never gets it. Robert gets a friend from the IT department at the school where he teaches to retrieve Wayne’s text message, which Grace had deleted, from his phone, but that happens while Grace is at Wayne’s home. She got in because Wayne had told her where he hid his outside key (for some reason both Robert and Wayne hide keys outside their homes and Grace worms out of them the information about where they’re hidden) and confronts him at the top of his staircase; he’s got a gun but she’s able to catch him off balance, so he falls down the stairs, dying in the process, while she takes both his gun and his phone. Finally the cops catch on to what’s going on just as Grace is making her final play for Robert, and like so many crazy Lifetime heroines before her, once she realizes that he’s still in love with Erin’s memory and is totally uninterested in Grace as girlfriend material, she goes ballistic. He corners her but makes the mistake of doing so in her kitchen where she can easily reach for a knife (obviously the man has never seen a Lifetime movie in his life!), with which she tries to recover control of the situation once they struggled for Wayne’s gun and he kicked it out of her way — later on Robert gets the gun and shoots Grace, though she doesn’t die: the finale shows her in a hospital bed, still babbling away about how she and Robert are in love with each other and how she won’t let anything come between them. The Perfect Stalker is an O.K. Lifetime drama, neither better nor worse than the common run of them, and while it got a better review on than I would have expected mainly because the reviewer was quite taken with Danielle Savre and her performance — he also gave writer Dick points for giving us a real mental illness Grace is suffering from instead of telling us she’s just f---ing crazy — I wasn’t especially impressed or unimpressed by this one.