Blinders (aka Stalker) (2020)

Blinders first published by

We know from the outset of Blinders (aka Stalker), co-written and directed by Tyler Savage (Inheritance, 2017), that its protagonist Andy (Vincent Van Horn), like most of us, lives much of his lonely life online. For the opening scenes are presented as video shot vertically on his smartphone, documenting his move from Dallas to Los Angeles to escape a bitter breakup from a long-term relationship. In his frequent moments of solitude and sadness, Andy stares forlornly at the photographs of his ex (Grace Marlow) that he keeps on his phone. Later, Andy’s new teen tutee (Darius Marcell) will criticise Andy’s Instagram account for having nothing on it recently but selfies. And of course, in private moments, Andy masturbates to online images. Yet the very day that Andy has moved into his rented apartment, he meets Sam (Christine Ko) in a bar. This could be the new real-life relationship that Andy has been seeking – except that Roger (Michael Lee Joplin), the creepy ride-share driver who gives them both a lift back to Sam’s home, also knows a thing or two about the workings of the Internet, and is soon harassing Andy both online and off in a cruelly jealous campaign of pranking and much, much worse.

This trolling scenario escalates very quickly, marking Blinders as a paranoid stalker thriller in the mould of Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty For Me (1971) – a film which Roger will later expressly reference – only updated to the digital age. Roger steadily jeopardises everything in Andy’s life – his new teaching job, his privacy, his solvency – and a digressive sequence in which we see Roger doing very bad things to another couple introduces a particularly heightened note of tension to all this homosocial cat and mouse, as we see just how high the stakes are, and are left wondering what exactly Roger’s endgame is for Andy and Sam, and why he is toying with them for so much longer than his other victims. 

These are not the only questions that will be nagging at any viewer uncertain where things are headed. You might also be wondering why cypher Sam seems so woefully underwritten – for when she is not the mere doe-eyed foil for Andy’s emotional recovery, she becomes the classic ‘damsel in distress’ for our hero to rescue. The biggest mystery, though, is the film’s title. The slatted font of its on-screen appearance in the opening credits might suggest a reference to Venetian blinds, as might the repeated views of the window blinds at Sam’s apartment, shot voyeuristically from street level. Or perhaps it is a reference to the various ‘blinders’ at the bar that have Andy waking up hung over the following morning. By the end, after this twisty psychodrama has played its last triumphant blinder, the meaning of the title shifts once again, and now that the blinders have been lifted off the viewer, the whole film can be rewatched in a rather different light. The result is a smarter-than-you-first-realise chiller cunningly constructed to reward multiple viewings. Savage indeed.

Strap: Tyler Savage delivers a twisty romantic (cyber)stalker thriller that plays several blinders on the viewer.

Anton Bitel