'Watcher' Keeps Things Simple and Scary - Knotfest
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‘Watcher’ Keeps Things Simple and Scary

Posted by Nicolás Delgadillo in Culture on June 9, 2022

This thriller about a woman with a persistent stalker is wickedly effective

Horror movies have always found ways to scare us by evoking that feeling of being watched; of constantly feeling like someone has their eyes on you. It’s a classic technique that takes easy advantage of the fact that everyone can relate to it. In the horror and thriller genres this is usually told from the perspective of women due to, you know, that being the miserable case in real life. So it takes a lot of confidence to call your movie something as straightforward as Watcher and have your plot be a standard story of a woman being watched and stalked by a dangerous man. What’s new here? Well to put it simply, Watcher is first and foremost really fucking scary.

The confidence is well founded. The film comes from director Chloe Okuno, who contributed the ‘Storm Drain’ segment to last year’s excellent V/H/S/94. The short instantly became one of the most memorable and genuinely terrifying entries in the entire franchise. Hail Raatma. Watcher is masterfully suspenseful even though it’s officially categorized as a psychological thriller, it’s often scary enough to qualify as horror. That’s likely in large part to how the film smartly keeps things simple.

Julia (Maika Monroe) has just moved to Romania with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman). He’s landed a cushy job at a marketing firm and gotten the two of them a nice apartment with a large set of windows. The grand scenic view of their part of the city of Bucharest is marred, however, by a man in the building across from them who constantly appears to be standing in front of his window looking out. While the man can only be seen at night and is too far away to make out his face, he certainly does appear to always be staring directly into their apartment.

Maika Monroe stars as Julia in ‘Watcher’
Courtesy of IFC Films

This is only really noticed by Julia of course, who keeps her thoughts to herself most of the time as to not bother Francis with her apprehensions. Besides, he’s barely home anyway, spending long nights doing work-related business. The mysterious man may not be doing anything particularly malicious, but the film captures an appropriately overwhelming sense of unease about the way he’s just always there in that window, watching. Not moving a muscle. Creepy doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Julia’s days exploring the city and acclimating to her new surroundings continue to grow longer and lonelier. With no job of her own, no family, no friends and only a rudimentary grasp of the country’s language, Julia unfortunately spends almost all of her time stuck in her own head. So when the stranger in the window appears to move up from merely watching to full-fledged stalking, the young American woman’s fear and unease goes into overdrive. And no one – not her husband, not the police – is willing to help her or even be convinced that she’s in danger at all.

Watcher may be familiar territory, even with its more modern themes of microaggressions and gaslighting, but every aspect of it is done with such quiet intensity until its seat-gripping final moments. Monroe is outstanding as Julia in a performance that perfectly matches the slow burn of the film itself. Screenwriter Zack Ford wisely keeps the script simplistic and the dialogue minimal (but no less sharp), leaving Monroe to carry most of our attention by face and physicality alone. She crushes it, and the rest of the small cast are no slouches either.

Maika Monroe stars as Julia in ‘Watcher’
Courtesy of IFC Films

Okuno also takes full advantage of Ford’s loose screenplay and is able to truly tell the story through action more than words. The director has the ability to suck the air right out of the room with the way she mounts tension and suspense. Before you even realize it, you’ve been holding your breath. It’s an ideal theater experience that can elicit gasps and screams without the need for jump scares or even much violence. I must reiterate, this movie is really good at being scary.

If you’re looking for some lean and mean thrills with a simple but engaging story, Watcher is the way to go. This is not one to sleep on. Okuno has now made an indelible mark on the horror world and should be kept an eye on for what she may bring to the table next.

‘Watcher’ is now playing in theaters.


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