observer

Director Chloe Okuno adds tension in her moody and atmospheric directorial debut Watcher. The film focuses on the minute, troubling things that someone may encounter who turns their stomach, but can make others think they are overreacting. As the story progresses, these subtly creepy things become more and more menacing and obvious. Led by strong acting that elevates Maika Monroe’s film, Watcher has moviegoers on the edge of their seats trying to figure out what’s going on.

This film follows Julia (Maika Monroe) and Francis (Karl Glusman) as the couple moves to Bucharest, Romania because of Francis’ job. Especially through Julia’s eyes we see what life is like now that she has moved from New York to Romania. She tries to make the adaptation, but either she doesn’t know the language, or that a killer known as “The Spider” is walking around. She is left alone for the most part throughout the film, as Francis is stuck at work late most nights. Julia looks out her window one night and sees a man staring at her from the apartment across the street. The next day, she’s shooting a movie at a local movie theater, but then someone sits right behind her and leans forward and starts breathing down her neck. She leaves the theater to go to the local grocery store, but realizes that this man has followed her there. Since this is the starting point, Julia must deal with skepticism from her husband, the police and her neighbors.

Watcher has many things that work for it. The location of Bucharest seems like a perfect place for this film. It gives viewers the same lonely feeling that Julia experiences, in a new place thousands of miles from home. With many tertiary characters speaking Romanian, Chloe Okuna made a stylistic choice not to include subtitles so that the viewer receives some of the information second-hand, adding to the paranoia. The acting is also quite good, especially from Maika Monroe. Her fear was palpable and throughout the film it is clear that her character’s mental state deteriorates as she is consumed by the man watching her through the window. She has also played quite a few horror movies (It Follows, Tau) and in the gruesome scenes of the film, her facial expressions come across as very authentic.

There are some aspects of the movie that are up for debate, including the story in general. Watcher relies on the suspense generated by moments that, without the score, aren’t necessarily as menacing as one would believe. For a while these feel like chance encounters, and they seem to happen by chance. As the film progresses, you can’t help but feel that a few scenes with the ‘viewer’ could have given these moments more emotional weight. Another thing about the story is that there are no twists and turns and after about the first 25 minutes, some predictability creeps in.

Watcher doesn’t do anything to reinvent the suspense or horror genre, but it’s a solid 90-minute movie that will make your hairs rise.