INTERVIEW: Tyler Savage, director STALKER (2020)

“People have always found ways to reinvent or misrepresent themselves, but social media has provided a completely unprecedented opportunity to manipulate reality”

A standout hit of FrightFest 2020, Blinders – now retitled Stalker and available on VOD – wowed audiences with its slick dissection of Insta-culture and how online life can distract from reality, leaving us unable to see the danger closing in. Here we sit down with director Tyler Savage to unpack his sophomore outing…

Stalker originally screened on the festival circuit last year as Blinders: what precipitated the name change?

When we got picked up, Vertical Entertainment wanted us to change the title to something more tangible or marketable. We had actually filmed the movie under the title Stalker and then changed it to Blinders to have something more unique or easy to differentiate. So we really just ended up coming full circle.

There’s this thematic pre-occupation with the act of seeing, or rather not seeing. What do you think keeps people from perceiving themselves and others accurately?

Yeah, I think I’ve always been sort of obsessed with how people perceive themselves and the world. We often think of ourselves and our perceptions as largely objective and clearly defined things, but that’s just not the case. Actual self-awareness or self-integration is an extremely rare quality. It takes a lot of dedication and effort to understand our subconscious selves, and it’s something I’ll always be working on. To me, there’s nothing more interesting than meditating on the things we do and don’t see both in ourselves and in the world at large.

As the film progresses social media is weaponised and made unsafe: what are your thoughts about the kind of identities people build for themselves online?

This is a great extension of your question above about perception. People have always found ways to reinvent or misrepresent themselves, but social media has provided a completely unprecedented opportunity to manipulate reality. In terms of the kind of identities that people build for themselves online, I think it’s a mixed bag. There’s probably some good that can come from exploring aspects of yourself via socials, but a lot of the time people are just trying to look like something they’re not. And in a world of crypto and NFTs, where we’re pushing the boundaries of what is virtual vs what is real, this idea of bending or manipulating reality or even reassessing the nature of reality itself will only continue to deepen. 

The lack of data security is similarly an important plot point and feels very current given the scandals around Big Data mining people’s personal information. How political did you intend to be?

I was more focused on the general fear that we blindly trust and buy into systems and tools without being thoughtful about the ways in which they might leave us exposed or vulnerable. But you’re right about there being Big Data mining commentary baked into the concept as well. While we may not have a violent rideshare driver coming after us, we should all be more thoughtful about the undefined contracts we enter into in this data-driven world. We really are more vulnerable than most of us realize, and that’s scarier than a villain with a knife.

Eye-trauma is a recurrent trope in horror movies, and there’s a particularly distressing sequence of eye-based-violence in the third act of Stalker: were you drawing inspiration from any other films for this moment?

That’s a good point, and that trend might relate back to some of these larger cultural questions. To me, the violence in the third act was driven by themes of sight and perception so I wasn’t too conscious of any other films.

What’s next for you?

Just trying to get the next project going. I’m working on a few scripts, including another sort of social commentary thriller with my frequent co-writer Dash Hawkins.

Tim Coleman

Stalker is available on VOD.

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