Stalker

Incorporating social media into films—particularly horror genre ones—in an organic and fluid manner is tricky,  but Stalker does so with panache. Tyler Savage’s Stalker is an unsettling film about the dual disconnection and intrusiveness of modern society. The riveting Vincent Van Horn stars as Andrew, a young man soothing his recent heartbreak by moving to Los Angeles. He still spends his nights scrolling through photographic memories with his ex-girlfriend Erin. Soon he meets the beguiling Sam (Christine Ko) at a bar and they connect over their failed relationships. Andrew’s world comes crashing down when he crosses paths with Roger,  a lonely ride-share driver. 

Michael Lee Joplin’s kinetic performance carries the film; he deftly balances the eerie charm of the psychopathic role without being too cartoonish. Roger develops an obsession with Andy and starts harassing him by threatening his adorable dog Juicebox, installing secret cameras, impersonating him on phone calls, and so much more. Savage, working from his script with Dash Hawkins, skillfully builds the tension as Roger’s grip on Andy’s life becomes increasingly stronger. Roger ends up running Andy’s job, relationships, and finances with the simple push of a button. The way Roger can destroy Andy’s life and assume his identity through technology with such ease is utterly terrifying. 

Stalker features a clever twist ending that is best left as a surprise and sure to rattle viewers. Savage makes great use of the lower budget and small cast to craft an unsettling film about the power social media has in our lives. It is an incisive horror piece that handles its brutality and psychological menace with precision and makes you think twice about exposing yourself so intimately online. 

Coast

Coast has familiar teen-movie themes: disaffected youth who want to escape their hometown, teen pregnancy, an inspiring English teacher, concerns about the future, and parental strife. But it is also an affectionate portrait of a unique and specific agricultural community and its people. The film focuses on the children of Californian immigrants who endure difficult, back-breaking labor in the local strawberry fields or vineyards. Coast centers on a group of bold young girls who yearn to find their own place in the world. 

15-year-old Abby (Fatima Ptacek) longs to know what lies beyond her stifling hometown of Santa Maria, a point of view that is slightly at odds with the painterly compositions of pale skies and lush greens from cinematographer D.J. Harder. She cannot appreciate the town’s rugged beauty because, like most teenagers, she wants to spread her wings and fly somewhere else. Ptacek delivers an electric performance as the rebellious and listless Abby. She fiercely communicates the fire in Abby’s belly for something more, particularly through her love of music. 

Abby butts heads with her hard-working mother, a night-shift nurse played by a staid Cristela Alonzo. She takes care of an ailing woman played by the formidable Melissa Leo, whose side plot is unnecessary but engaging. Abby’s father Blake (Paul McCarthy-Boyington) has been kicked out of their home for getting his secretary pregnant and Abby largely ignores him. A bright light in Abby’s humdrum existence is the enigmatic musician Dave (Kane Ritchotte), a traveling musician who makes Abby believe her dreams can come true. 

Directors Jessica Hester and Derek Schweickart and writer Cindy Kitagawa give Coast a meandering feeling that drags at times but evokes the aimless feeling of the main characters. What is most significant about the film is that it is told through the lens of Hispanic teenagers, many of whose parents are undocumented laborers. There is also the constant thrum of music, whether it be live performances or on the soundtrack that gives Coast vibrant energy, even in its tedious moments. Coast is an earnest coming-of-age film about adolescent discontent with a unique perspective on the pressures of second-generation immigrants.