Review: 'The Night Stalker'
The crime drama "The Night Stalker" (screening during the 42nd Seattle International Film Festival) answers the question: is it possible to make a flat, lumbering and tedious film about a notorious serial killer? The answer is yes.
In short: An attorney (Bellamy Young) meets with death-row inmate Richard Ramirez (Lou Diamond Phillips), hoping get him to confess to a murder, for which her client was falsely convicted. But in unraveling his bloody history, she confronts the demons of her own past. (Watch the trailer)
It bears mentioning that Phillips is the undeniable strength of "Night Stalker." His unsympathetic and unrepentant version of Ramirez is chilling - this is a man who sees women as objects and he can channel murderous intent with an intense, soul-piercing glare. Even beyond the creepy resemblance to Ramirez, it's difficult to imagine anyone else filling the role as well as Phillips.
Whereas Phillips delivers a focused performance, little else about "Night Stalker" is all that compelling. The entire impetus for the film -- trying to coax a confession to save another man's life -- is only relevant to the movie at the film's beginning and the end. Everything between is a muddled series of flashbacks revealing how Ramirez became the infamous killer and how his crimes affected the attorney's life when she was a teenager. The dramatic stakes are quickly jettisoned just so two characters can have a flaccid cat-and-mouse dynamic while sharing some stories.
Bellamy Young sticks out in a very bad way -- she is, quite simply, horribly cast as the attorney with a troubled past. She eye rolls her way through the film, making her character look shallow and silly juxtaposed next to Phillip's nuanced and chilling performance. Phillips is more engaging as a crazed serial killer while Young can barely make her character tolerable. The nail in the coffin for Young is the fact that she is not even the best actor playing her character in this film. The actress playing the teenage-version of the attorney character emotes more fear, fascination and naive boldness than Young ever approaches in her performance.
"Night Stalker" is a muddled drama. It lacks tension because the movie back burners the "get a confession to save a man's life" storyline. So the film is left to wallow in a meandering b-plot about a troubled teenage girl and the truncated origin story of a serial killer. The only amount of noticeable tension in the entire movie essentially comes down to whether a smartphone will run out of battery life or not. Even in a fairly important plot point, the film chooses prop-based tension rather than genuine character or even plot-driven tension.
Final verdict: Very little of this movie is subtle or well executed. Lou Diamond Phillips is the single saving grace of a movie that is rudderless and borderline pointless.
"The Night Stalker" screened during the 42nd Seattle International Film Festival. This film is not yet rated and has a running time of 89 minutes.