Director Chloe Okuno dials up the suspense in her moody and atmospheric directorial debut, Watcher. The film focuses on the minute, unsettling things that someone may encounter that turns their stomach but may cause others to think they’re overreacting. As the story progresses, these subtly creepy things become more and more menacing and apparent. Lead by strong acting that elevates the movie from Maika Monroe, Watcher has moviegoers on the edge of their seats trying to figure out what is going on.
This film follows Julia (Maika Monroe) and Francis (Karl Glusman) as the couple moves to Bucharest, Romania due to Francis’s job. Mainly through Julia’s eyes, we see how life is like for now that she had moved from New York to Romania. She tries to make the adjustment, but she does not know the language, or that there is a murderer on the loose known as “The Spider.” She is largely left alone throughout the film as Francis is stuck late at work most nights. Julia looks out her window one night and notices a man staring back at her from the apartment across the street. The next day she catches a movie at a local cinema only to have someone sit directly behind her and lean forward and start breathing on her neck. She leaves the theater to go to the local grocery store only to realize that this man has followed her there. With this being the jumping off point, Julia must deal with skepticism from her husband, police, and her neighbors.
Watcher has many things that work for it. The location of Bucharest seems like a perfect place for this film to be set. It gives the viewers the same alone feeling that Julia experiencing, being in a new place thousands of miles from home. With many tertiary characters speaking Romanian, Chloe Okuna made a stylistic choice of not including subtitles, so that the viewer is receiving some of the information secondhand, adding to the paranoia. Also, the acting in this is quite good, especially coming from Maika Monroe. Her anxiety was palpable, and throughout the film, it is evident that her character’s mental state is on the decline as she becomes consumed by the man watching her through the window. She has also been in her fair share of horror films (It Follows, Tau) and in the horrific scenes of the movie, her facial expressions come across as highly authentic.
There are some aspects of the film to take issue with, one of those being the story in general. Watcher relies on the suspense generated from moments that, without the score, aren’t necessarily as menacing as one is led to believe. For a while, these feel like casual encounters, and it seems they happen coincidentally. As the movie goes along, one couldn’t help but feel that a scene or two with the “watcher” could have helped these moments carry more emotional weight. Another thing with the story is that there are not any twists or 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 is a solid 90-minute movie that does raise the hairs on the back of your neck.