Watcher is a paranoid horror thriller that manages to ramp up the paranoia to the max, but falters unfortunately at the last hurdle.
Watcher follows a woman who has recently relocated to Bucharest after her husband has got a promotion. Feeling isolated and lonely in this new city, where she doesn’t know the language, she starts to feel that she is being watched and stalked. However, her husband, though concerned, believes it is all her free time that is driving her to feel these thoughts. With a serial killer killing women left and right in most ghastly and gruesome ways, will she be his next victim?
One thing that strikes immediately is the cinematography. Chloe Okuno manages to create an atmosphere that is just as spooky and haunting as what is happening in the film. There is a great sense of uneasiness that permeates every scene. We have large open hallways that feel like they will engulf our protagonist Julia (played by Maika Monroe). Even when colour is introduced there is a greyness that overshadows the scenes, heightening the loneliness. With this we can really feel in touch with Julia and how lost and alone she feels in every interaction.
This is further enhanced by the many scenes, where Julia is lost and confused by the language differences. She does not understand what her husband’s friends or colleagues are saying, feeling as if they are perhaps making jokes at her expense. With no subtitles in the scenes, we are also at a loss, which helps us more strongly identify with Julia. But it does make her husband a less sympathetic character, as he is completely unaware at best, or just unwilling to make efforts to include her in the conversation. And it is this lack of empathy which later spells doom for Julia.
This trope of the unbelieving almost gaslighting husband has been rather overdone and evokes annoyance in the audience than whatever they were trying to evoke. There are also the other men in the movies, such as the supermarket clerk, the police man and the ex-boyfriend that also are involved in the disbelieving circle which does not help. But maybe it hits harder because it is something that is so realistic and undoubtedly true in real life, that frustration rises for female audience members. Male audience members might have a different take on this.
Watcher is a slow burn, but in these paranoid horror thrillers, that is exactly what is needed to set your teeth on edge. As we start to see glimpses of the man who Julia believes is stalking her, this only intensifies. Is he watching her from the window? Or is it just a misunderstanding or her imagination? For quite a while, we don’t see his face, only portions of him.
At first it is his shadow standing at the window from the building across the street. Then it is his shoes, which follows her later to a supermarket. There she only sees the back and side of him, never revealing his full profile. It is an effective strategy hiding him, as the unknown figure is much more menacing.
When we eventually see him, some of the menace is extinguished. Burn Gorman is a good actor that has been in a lot of movies, but for this role, he was miscast. He isn’t able to capture the duplicity that is needed for a paranoid horror thriller. He comes across as rather menacing and disturbing which kinda kills the question of it all. There is a distinct lack of subtlety which would have made the ending more shocking. However, it is pulled back a little bit with the train stuck in the tunnel scene, and the ominous bag that sits beside him. You do question what is the truth then.
Once we get to the ending, we start to feel we know what is about to happen, which is rather a shame considering the ominous and suffocating atmosphere in the first half. It feels all a bit rushed happening almost in the blink of an eye, with the final scene being rather abrupt. Watcher focuses on Julia for the most part, and even the ending does that as well, but delving a little into the watcher, would have given a more rounded ending to it. In fact, the ending was rather unsatisfying after all that buildup.
Watcher is worth a watch just for the atmosphere which is done expertly, but as a horror thriller, it manages to just miss its mark.
Watcher is in cinemas now in the UK.