I was excited to write about Watcher in spite of the fact I knew nothing about the film. This is for a few reasons.
I’m always interested in seeing the feature debut of a new director, this one being Chloe Okuno.
I’ve been wanting to see more from actress Maika Monroe. She had breakthrough success in the critically acclaimed film It Follows, and I’ve wanted to see more of her in the genre ever since (I will be writing about her film Significant Other as soon as I can).
Lastly, I’ve built a respect up for the Shudder brand, specifically the films it releases exclusively. Say what you will about the streaming service, but I, for one, consider it worth the price of admission. Whether it be Lucky, The Boy Behind the Door, Random Acts of Violence, or another film in their catalog, a lot of worthwhile horror has come from their niche service.
The film itself is relatively straightforward – our main protagonist Julia, played by Maika Monroe, has relocated to Romania with her husband and encounters the usual problems that can come from moving to a new country.
This is, perhaps, a small component of the film, but is actually important in setting the mood and atmosphere of the film, as well as understanding our lead character’s plight. She can’t speak the language and finds herself left alone while her husband works long hours at a time. It’s lonely and overwhelming, and can also make filling the hours of day to day life tedious and feed ones’ paranoia or insecurities.
Everything changes for her when she finds herself being watched out the window by a neighbor from across the street.
The film does about everything you would expect from such a premise, which makes for a familiar retread of other psychological thrillers we’ve seen. The usual red herrings of “Am I imagining it?” and no one believing you, for example. Watcher will no doubt have you thinking about Alfred Hitchcock‘s Rear Window, or any other film that sees a lead character looking out the window and finding something awful outside it. Unfortunately, as a result, it doesn’t leave room for a lot of excitement or surprises in the film.
On the bright side though, everything it does do, it does very well. Maika Monroe delivers a solid performance as a woman becoming unhinged by her own anxieties (again, in a largely unknown country, largely on her own), and Burn Gorman carries a quiet intensity as the type of man who would enjoy having that power over somebody.
The film does toy around with the idea of it all being in Julia’s head, although it isn’t ever enough to make that a believable truth.
The description on the subscription service itself says as much, that someone is in fact watching her from the window, in spite how no one else can ever spot him looking out. The only loose thread is whether or not that person is a serial killer who is mentioned as being at large – which the answer to anyone who has ever seen a movie before will be, “Yeah, probably.”
I believe this film would have benefited from keeping its cards closer to its chest early on. They even left little logical plot threads available for it. The antagonist explicitly says he takes care of his sick father, but this isn’t until much later in the film. Why couldn’t it have been suggested that the sick father was the one watching from across the room, perhaps in a wheelchair?
It would have made other moments more interesting, like when our character becomes so invested in her watcher that she begins following him and trying to find information about him. The idea that she was inadvertently becoming the watcher is an interesting idea left malnourished.
I will say that, despite itself, Watcher is an entertaining film I enjoyed watching from start to finish. Once you know the premise, it doesn’t subvert expectations in any way, but it does meet them. It doesn’t do anything outlandish that will have you scratching your head in confusion, and simply plays out well from beginning, middle, to end. It doesn’t have the charm and energy of other Rear Window inspired films like Disturbia, for example, but it does have a more atmospheric, dark style that help make it feel like the other side to the same coin.
I recommend Watcher as an alright psychological thriller and a nice feather in the cap of each person involved.