June 3rd, 2022
STARRING: MAIKA MONROE, KARL GLUSMAN, BURN GORMAN
DIRECTED BY: CHLOE OKUNO
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The topic of voyeurism in cinema is not a new concept. The camera is our eyes as it leers at a subject, sometimes crafted with brilliance by a cinematographer, or just sitting still in a corner. In Chloe Okuno’s film Watcher, the eyes are all on the lead character from every angle, with the viewers, the other characters, and specifically a man living in a building across from her constantly watching. That part of having a person watch you is where the terror begins, creating a tension that may or may not be there, getting inside our heads. What starts as simple paranoia turns into genuine truth and Watcher evolves from a story about an isolated woman’s greatest fear. Watcher is a unique kind of horror, methodically plucking the strings, building to confrontation between the voyeur and his subject.
Maika Monroe stars as Julia, who has recently moved to Bucharest with her boyfriend Francis (Karl Glusman), where his dream job has brought him back to his native country. The transition is rocky, as Julia still only speaks English, unable to communicate with anyone but Francis, and currently without work while she gets settled. After a dinner with friends, the couple witness a murder at a building close to their home, which they learn on the news was the result of another attack by a serial killer on the loose. This initial revelation gives Julia fear about walking around town but then she notices a dark figure staring at her in a window across the way. “Someone is watching me, I just know”, she states, while nobody around believes her. This is her reality and as time goes on, her husband works all day, loneliness settles in, there are reports of another killing, and now the man watching across the way has become a curiosity that Julia must confront.
It may sound like a negative statement to make, but you must have patience with Watcher, as it slowly builds to the climactic ending. That’s not a spoiler either, as a series of events happen on the way to it, but writer/director Chloe Okuno does an impeccable job of creating the environment, and building the tension along the way. It’s evident that there is a rich knowledge of cinema coursing through Okuno’s mind, as she obviously draws from films such as Peeping Tom, Rear Window, or a movie that Monroe is familiar with in It Follows. The difference, however, from those films is the way Okuno uses space, creating scenes where Julia is often isolated, both inside and outside. Long shots of her walking on a desolate train platform or alone in a hallway create added tension as we continue to wonder if someone is watching her.
Each act introduces and adds to the line of characters that don’t believe Julia’s claims on her potential stalker, including Francis, but this isn’t just a movie about believing women, but also the state that a woman can be living in. Similar to Alex Garland’s Men, the tension created is by the reality that women must exist in. That created tone and tension are what set Watcher apart from just another genre film. There’s a brilliant craft at hand by Okuno, a subtle score that picks at your brain, and cinematography by Benjamin Kirk Nielsen that has you looking in dark places where a person could possibly be leering.
The other factor that makes Watcher great is Monroe, who is delivering undoubtedly her best work to date, in a performance that feels layered, with her character’s own internal struggle. Films such as Greta and The Guest have revealed Monroe’s ability to support a film, but the actress belongs as a lead. She is a bit of a staple in the horror genre but it’s dumbfounding that she hasn’t become a director’s muse, as her charm, and acting talents are perfectly on display here. It’s that, and the other various reasons I stated, that makes Watcher a sneaky and unnerving slice of cinema. One thing is for certain, this is not a movie you will want to watch alone, you might even start to think that someone is watching you.
WATCHER IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS FRIDAY JUNE 3RD, 2022
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady