Stalker (1998): Affair Trial

Dave’s crouching down behind the bins in order to catch a glimpse of Marc S. Grenier’s satisfying feature debut.

A commercials director by trade, Quebecois filmmaker Marc S. Grenier has enjoyed a successful twenty-five year stretch as a producer of award-winning documentaries and drama series in Canada. However, way back in the late ‘90s, shortly after he made his short film, Souleyad (1997), he embarked upon an impressive run of first-rate thrillers that – their budgetary limitations considered – are all exceptional. Dead Awake (2001), a twisting murder-mystery with Stephen Baldwin, is unquestionably Grenier’s best, while serial killer thriller Fallen Angel (2000) is a worthy runner-up. And in terms of intrigue and originality, you can make a strong case for his feature debut, STALKER, as a very close bronze.

Malcolm ‘Mack’ Maddox (C. Thomas Howell) is a hotshot advertising executive who seems to have it all: a job on the up, a doting bride (Maxim Roy), and an angelic child. As is so frequently the situation, though, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. Begrudgingly saddled with a spell of jury duty, Mack takes his seat on the benches to oversee the trial of Ezra Tyler (Jay Underwood), a man accused of killing his wife Justine in cold blood. When crime scene photos of the victim are shown in court, Mack can barely contain his horror: not only did he have a fling with the lady in question, but the prosecution is on the verge of collapse and a steely-eyed glare from the indicted suggests that Tyler is all too aware of his dead wife’s infidelity.

Shot in a wintry Montreal in 1998, Stalker – a.k.a. ‘Fatal Affair’ – succeeds because it gets all the basics bang on. Michael Rauch, who went on to produce eight seasons of the acclaimed Royal Pains, delivers a script that, despite a spot of cliched implausibility here and there, is as tight as a drum. Establishing the Maddox family as a picture of contentment is the ideal draw, while planting the courthouse penny drop in only the second reel ensures that the baton is passed to Grenier to maintain the momentum.

And that he does with aplomb – though having Howell, who can play twitchy two-timer in his sleep, is an obvious asset, as too is the cherubic Roy in the first of four collaborations with the director. Of the three leads, it’s perhaps Underwood who impresses the most. He plays Ezra with a subtly sinister yet charming nature – a welcome surprise from the conventional caricature that litters the suburban thrillers of the ‘90s. The Minnesota native was a fixture in the video store ware of the ’90s, popping up in the likes of Turi Meyer’s Sleepstalker (1995) and Rob Malenfant’s The Nurse (1997), before God came calling, whereupon he retired from all things R-rated to pursue his dream of full-time Christian ministry.

Canada ● 1998 ● Thriller ● 94mins

C. Thomas Howell, Maxim Roy, Jay Underwood, Mark Camacho ● Dir. Marc S. Grenier ● Wri. Michael Rauch

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