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Watcher Review

June 4, 2022 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Watcher Image Credit: Shudder/IFC Midnight
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Watcher Review  

* Maika Monroe as Julia
* Karl Glusman as Francis
* Burn Gorman as Daniel Weber
* Madalina Anea as Irina
* Daniel Nuta as Cristian
* Cristina Deleanu as Eleanora
* Tudor Petrut as Taxi Driver

Story: Julia (Maika Monroe) joins her husband when he relocates to his family’s native Romania for a new job. Having recently abandoned her acting career, she finds herself frequently alone and unoccupied. One night, people-watching from her picture window, she spots a vague figure in an adjacent building, who seems to be looking back at her. Soon after, while alone at a local movie theater, Julia’s sense of being watched intensifies, and she becomes certain she’s being followed — could it be the same unknown neighbor? Meanwhile, a serial killer known as The Spider stalks the city.

Maika Monroe just can’t seem to avoid being followed. After being chased by supernatural forces in It Follows, she returns to the world of horror for Watcher, from IFC Midnight and Shudder. This premise is a little more realistic than that, but it’s still a funny note. Chloe Okuno, the director, is also no stranger to horror as she directed ‘Storm Drain’ for V/H/S/94. That was arguably the best story of the film. At the very least it gives me a reason to remind you all to ‘Hail Raatma.’

If you thought both of Monroe and Okuno’s last genre efforts were a little too wild, there’s good news. Watcher is as safe a thriller as you can possibly get. That’s not really for a lack of effort, as there’s a lot of good here. But the story structure and premise have been done to death to the point it may actually be too difficult to do something original with it. Otherwise you might end up with Men, another horror film that features a woman dealing with a problematic male and other males that won’t listen. The two films have more parallels than you’d think. Watcher is significantly more watchable and less confusing.

Monroe plays a former actress who goes with her husband to Bucharest after he has to relocate for work. She’s already having a rough time because she barely knows the language and doesn’t have anyone other than a husband that is away a lot. Things get worse when she notices a man watching her from his window, around the same time that a serial killer is operating in the same city. You can probably put together how the movie goes because this one has been done several times before. It doesn’t matter a whole lot, as long as this version is decent.

It’s helped by the performance of Monroe. She is able to play Julia as vulnerable, but not weak. She’s uncomfortable with her situation but doesn’t always have to say it. You can tell through her body language and facial expressions. It’s very easy to sympathize with her because of this, and feel for her when her own husband is constantly belittling her over her anxieties. Karl Glusman does fine with the material he’s given, but he’s not really there to be anything more than another obstacle.

If anything, he should have been written better so that his reasons for doubting her were more apparent. The way the characters play off each other, it’s hard to believe they were in love enough for her to marry him, let alone give up her entire life to join him in Romania. That might be by design though, as there’s definite themes of isolation and frustration that might be playing into her paranoia. Is the serial killer really after her or is she just going stir crazy from being alone all the time? It would have been nice if that were played up a little more than it was, but those themes are definitely there.

Okuno’s direction is also not a problem. She knows how to craft a suspenseful scene and the drawn-out conclusion is masterfully done. At one point, the audience thinks one ending is going to happen, but then another ending, and that was definitely by design. The ending is arguably the best part because it’s the only time when the movie feels dangerous and different. Watcher definitely succeeds on sticking the landing.

The biggest problem with the script is that outside of that final ten minutes or so, this is all pretty by-the-numbers. It’s easy to see where certain suspenseful moments will happen. It’s easy to tell how the red herring is going to go. Everything that you think will happen to build to this ending does. Watcher doesn’t try anything new in that respect and it seems very comfortable walking the well-worn path. It’s perfectly serviceable and there are good things about it. It’s just not terribly exciting for a large portion.

It’s not exactly damning with faint praise, as Watcher was decent. The acting is strong. The direction is good. It’s wonderfully shot. It’s just not very suspenseful or evokes any kind of dread that you’d expect. The heroine doesn’t even really feel like she’s in danger until the end. A thriller has to be thrilling, and this really isn’t for the majority of its runtime. That doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it forgettable.

The final score: review Average
The 411
Watcher is a fairly routine thriller elevated almost entirely by the performance of Maika Monroe. Director Chloe Okuno does attempt to inject some style but outside of minor twist, this is a safe and harmless stalker movie that is best saved for a rental.

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Watcher, Joseph Lee