In the MAD Magazine satire of The Amityville Horror (The Calamityville Horror), there’s an edge-of-panel despairing character who claims he’s the public relations man for Amityville and has to cope with the shark panic caused by Jaws and now has a haunted house scare on his hands. I imagine whoever’s in charge of PR for the Ryde car-sharing service in Los Angeles must feel the same way – this is at least the third film in which one of their drivers, or (to be fair) someone impersonating one of their drivers, turns out to be a dangerous nutso who makes life hell for a random customer. And why don’t movies pick on Uber or Lyft instead?
Teacher/drummer Andy Escobedo (Vincent Van Horn) moves from Texas to Los Angeles after a bad breakup which has also totalled his social cred in his home city. He settles into a new apartment with his dog Juicebox (uh oh – dogs seldom fare well in psycho-stalker pictures) and scores some gigs tutoring private pupils … then, one night drinking alone in a bar, he has the good fortune to get chatting to cute, nice woman Sam (Christine Ko), a location finder, who asks him back to her place … but the bad fortune to get Roger Perkins (Michael Lee Joplin), a weird vibes kind of guy, as a Ryde driver. Andy and Sam start slowly but do begin to have a relationship, but Roger also keeps showing up – and Andy ghosts him after he’s been deluged with texts. Roger’s close-cut beard/baseball cap/too-ready smile look is just on the money for the sort of guy you know is a wrong ‘un from the first but get lulled into being polite to before learning a harsh lesson.
Shut out of Andy’s developing new life – but also plainly relishing the chance to get to work on a new victim – Roger uses basic cyberstalking tricks and online research to get access to his apartment, cell phone, email account, bank details, employment/social history and all sorts of other handy details that enable him to play a series of pranks that get more personal and dangerous. As in most stalker pictures, going to the cops doesn’t help much – especially when Andy has to deal with having an embarrassing video clip of an intimate moment emailed to all his work contacts. The campaign escalates to identity (and money) theft, and Roger also has a sideline in randm violence – with, as the canny punning title hints, a tendency to go for the eyes.
Director Tyler Savage, who co-wrote with producer Dash Hawkins, crafts the suspense well, with Van Horn agreeably schlubby as the everyman victim … a few early hints that none of the principle characters have been entirely truthful about how they got to this juncture in their lives pay off with some third-act complications, but the effectiveness of this as a thriller is mostly down to us seeing where hapless Andy has gone wrong and the sadistic Roger has spotted exploitable cracks in his life. The suspense ratchets up as Andy’s provisional new life – new relationship, new job, new apartment – comes under threat, with the probability that in the end the cat and mouse stuff won’t be enough for the bloothirsty Roger. Very good performances from the three leads help a lot – with Ko bringing some extra layers to the potentially sidelined/idealised role of the new girl who’s as likely as Juicebox to become collateral damage in this man-on-man menace scenario.