Tell me, who’s watching? Julia (Maika Monroe) is attempting to answer that. How did she get here? Julia has followed her husband, Francis (Karl Glusman) to Bucharest, Romania following Francis’ job promotion. While the land and the language are very foreign to her, this is a second home for her spouse, who grew up here and has retained much of his roots. The fish out of water feeling Julia has is far removed from the comfort surrounding Francis. Her rocky overnight life adjustment is compounded by the fact that she’s lost professionally, once an actress who has given the profession up.
Goes without saying, she’s stressed. And Julia becomes more stressed every time she peers out the window at night and some figure is peering back at her, looking down from the fifth floor window across the street. Out and about, Julia gets the sense she is being watched and followed by this individual (Burn Gorman) in her neighborhood. If all the stress of living in a new place and possibly being stalked were not enough, there is a serial killer running rampant in the city…
It is not a 100% surefire marker for success, but sometimes, a movie can sell itself quickly and effectively in a one or two sentence synopsis. Watcher fits the bill. Serial killer, foreign setting, and an enigmatic neighbor? Easy sell which goes a long way, even before it’s actually seen in action.
The film marks the directing debut for Chloe Okuno, who made a little bit of a name for herself helming one of 4 shorts in the V/H/S/94 anthology series last year. Watcher, for the simple fact that she is the sole person both behind the camera and pushing the pen to paper, is a step up. Flourishes of Brian De Palma, Alfred Hitchcock, and David Lynch are all seen. Yet, the feature never feels like Okono is trying to copy any of those individuals. Sure, a perpetual sense of being not just watched but meticulously analyzed exists from multiple angles, and with it, Okuno imbues her feature with constant anxiety, particularly since we’re seeing the events from Julia’s frame of mind.
So yes, Watcher manages to be quite unnerving and uncomfortable, but the cool thing is that Okuno is as interested and adept with mining the societal drama embedded within the story. At its core, Watcher is a story all too unfortunately common of a woman wanting desperately to be taken seriously and believed as she’s going through a scary experience and not be dismissed as crazy. Or worse, being seen as the one provoking harassment. One specific scene midway through reminded me of the underseen The Assistant (also distributed by IFC!).
If there were one notable criticism with the script—and I’ll do my best to keep spoiler-free, it is that the convergence of the parallel stories featuring the serial killer and Julia’s own plight don’t quite coalesce cleanly near the end, which sees Watcher end abruptly. Granted, the final result might work for some and it is foreshadowed, but the last few minutes feel as if they take place in a different movie and it can be argued that keeping the stories separate would be as scary if not more so than what we end up getting.
Debatable story choices or not, Watcher is driven by a phenomenal Monroe performance, who blends toughness with trepidation. No shocker, her screen presence is magnetic and though she’s been around for a minute, her lead work here is a good reminder that the 29-year-old has many great appearances ahead. Monore’s male co-stars of Glusman and Gorman provide ample support too, being two sides of the same patriarchy coin whether subtle or overt.
Starting with a perfectly tight hook and then revealing itself to be much deeper with near-flawless technical execution, Watcher is one of the year’s most gripping releases. Here’s to it finding legs and eyeballs this summer.
Photo credits go to fltimes.com, moviechant.com, and impawards.com.
For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com.
Feel free to follow me @MrJackMarkSon