Sunday, March 26, 2017

Stalker’s Prey (Stargazer Films, Synthetic Cinema International, Johnson Production Group, Lifetime, 2017)

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

The first of last night’s two Lifetime “premiere” movies was Stalker’s Prey, listed on as Hunter’s Cove (presumably a working title, since Hunter’s Cove is the name of the beach town where it takes place). Directed by Colin Theys from a script by John Doolan, it’s a pretty typical by-the-numbers Lifetime piece in which high-school senior Laura Wilcox (Saxon Sharbino) and her younger sister Chloe (Alexis Larivere) are being raised by their mom Sandy (Cynthia Gibb) as a single parent. Dad is still alive but he hovers over the action as a sort of irritating non-presence and is never seen as a character, though at one point an argument between Sandy and Laura establishes that it was their father who left their mom, not the other way around. In the opening scene, we see Laura and her boyfriend Nicholas Jordan (Luke Slattery) making out and getting ready to have sex in Nicholas’s pickup truck — a real cool restored oldie with a double cab — when mom comes home early from an outing and catches them. She orders Laura into the house and tells her she’s not to see Nicholas anymore — it becomes clear she just plain doesn’t like him and doesn’t regard him as a suitable mate for her daughter — and when she resists, Sandy tells Laura she’s grounded for the weekend even though it’s her birthday and she was counting on being able to go out to celebrate. Laura duly sneaks out, and equally unsurprisingly her sister Chloe rats her out to mom; where Laura is going is to the local beach with her friend Bre Hendricks (Gillian Rose) — the first name is pronounced “Brie,” like the cheese — and the two end up on a boat called Open Wide (as in what, Laura’s legs?), from which they dive to do a swim in the local cove. Only there’s a shark prowling the water (and director Theys can’t resist some vaguely Jaws-ish musical themes while this is happening — no composer is credited so the music may be stock recordings, but whoever is responsible knocks off not only John Williams’ famous shark-attack theme from Jaws but the shrieking violins Bernard Herrmann used for the shower murder in Hitchcock’s Psycho) and it attacks our young lovebirds: Nicholas is killed by the shark (a real pity because we straight female or Gay male viewers don’t want to lose the cutest guy in the film at the end of the first act!) but Laura is rescued by Bruce Kane (Mason Dye), of whom we’d also got some choice man-meat views in swim trunks and nothing else.

Mason Dye is an actor whose most famous previous credit is probably as Christopher Dollanganger in Lifetime’s 2014 adaptation of V. C. Andrews’ trash-Gothic thriller Flowers in the Attic — though his page lists recurring roles in short-run TV series like Secret Diary of an American Cheerleader (2013), Teen Wolf (2014), Finding Carter (2015) and Roommates (2016), as well as feature films like Natural Selection (2015), My Stepdaughter (2015) and Vanished: Next Generation (2016), an entry in the series based on Tim LaHaye’s and Jerry Jenkins’ aftermath-of-the-Rapture books. When I posted on Flowers in the Attic I confessed, “I was interested in watching this partly because the previews for it on Lifetime had shown some quite appealing footage of Mason Dye, the juvenile male lead, going around shirtless — and while young blond boys with no chest hair aren’t exactly my biggest ‘type’ he was aesthetically appealing enough I decided I wouldn’t mind sitting through the whole movie for more glimpses of his partially unclad bod.” Dye is still nice-looking and it’s not his fault that Luke Slattery, whom I’d previously seen as the stuck-up rich-kid defendant in the premiere episode of the TV series Bull, is even hotter — but since this time he’s playing an out-and-out villain instead of a morally ambiguous character, he’s shown as considerably more stuck up and stiff.

The gimmick is that once Bruce, the son of a local City Councilmember, sees Laura he’s instantly smitten and believes she is The One for him from then on — and this being a stalker story his affections get creepier and creepier, including taking on a job baby-sitting for Laura’s sister Chloe (ya remember Laura’s sister Chloe?) and getting a key to their house, ostensibly so he can show up whenever Sandy needs a baby-sitter but really to show up whenever he wants Laura — whom he makes it to bed with once (at a garden party given by his dad to raise money for his re-election campaign — Bruce tricks Laura into going by saying he merely wants an escort but he turns it into a real date, necking with her by the backyard swimming pool to the strains of the 1913 song “You Made Me Love You” (I wasn’t sure, but I think the singer was Patsy Cline) and ultimately having sex with her. This immediately gets Laura read out of the ranks of the cool kids in school, especially when Bruce turns up as a substitute English teacher leading Laura’s class and the rest of the students, including Bry and their Black friend Parker Lowe (Camrus Johnson), write “Hot for TeAcher” (the “A” in bright red as if it represents the grade Laura will get with her body whether she deserves it or not) on the front of her locker. As the film progresses (like a disease), Bruce’s actions get weirder and weirder — the oddest scene has got to be the one in which he sneaks into her house just so he can lay next to her in bed — and also more and more psychotic. He has a former girlfriend named Alison whom he claims still to be in touch with and to consult as if an old friend — and we hear her voice (supplied by actress Christina Sciongay) on his cell phone as he leaves her a message on her voicemail. Only when Laura tracks down Alison and meets her mom, she’s told that Alison has been dead for four years — she died in a car accident. Later, of course, we get a flashback to the event and find out, not at all to our surprise, that it wasn’t an “accident” at all: Bruce deliberately sped his car with himself and Alison in it to the point where it crashed, and he escaped but she was killed. 

The big problem with Stalker’s Prey is the big problem with a lot of Lifetime’s thrillers: not content to keep Bruce’s villainy within reasonable and believable bounds, writer Doolan makes him a figure of almost preternatural evil, knocking off not only Alison in a flashback — though he’s continued to call her regularly and get her voicemail (after she’s been dead four years would her voicemail service still work?) — but Laura’s and Bry’s Black male confidant, fellow student Parker Lowe (Camrus Johnson), whose body he sticks in his car so he can shock Laura with the sight of it. When Bruce isn’t doing all this he’s giving interviews to the local TV station (whose reporter is a woman with a striking resemblance to both Alison and Laura — apparently this is Bruce’s only “type”) telling the townspeople he’s personally going to kill the shark they’re convinced has left the area but he’s sure is still out there — at one point he spots the shark and shoots him with a harpoon gun but misses — and at the end, it having finally penetrated his thick skull that even though she let him have sex with her once, she has no interest in a long-term relationship with him, Bruce takes her out to his boat in the dead of night, intending to feed her to the shark … only she grabs the harpoon gun and wounds him with him, then after some more confused action manages to push him off the boat so the shark gets him in the end (selachimorpha ex machina). At times the moral of this story seems to be, “When your mom grounds you because she doesn’t like your boyfriend, listen to her: otherwise, if you sneak out, he’s going to be killed by a shark and you’ll be rescued by a cute guy who’ll become an obsessive stalker and threaten to kill you” — though one part of Doolan’s script I liked was the irony that Laura’s mom can’t stand the nice boy she’s dating at the opening and loves the one who turns out to be the demented stalker who nearly kills her. Other than that, Stalker’s Prey was pretty typical Lifetime fare, blessed with two cute guys we get to see in hot states of undress but preceding along well-traveled routes to a pretty predictable ending.