Film Review: The Watchers is a tense, though questionably executed chiller

Given M. Night Shyamalan‘s penchant for banking the majority of his theatrical narratives on “the twist ending”, it’s understandable to walk into his daughter’s feature directorial debut with the same type of expectation.

Whilst I can’t personally speak to whether or not the A.M. Shine novel Ishana Night Shyamalan has adapted is faithfully recreated here – down to its narrative reveal – those with unread eyes are sure to be eagerly anticipating who (or what) the titular creations of The Watchers are.

And, to that point, Shyamalan has created a sense of eery tension as we follow Mina (Dakota Fanning), a 28-year-old American artist living in Ireland, who gets stranded in an expansive, untouched area of western Ireland forestry when her car breaks down.

As she tries to navigate her way out, Mina starts to realise the forest itself has a deliberate way of turning her around so that whichever direction she takes, she winds up at her starting point.  As night falls, Mina finds shelter in an usual mirrored dwelling, where a trio of similarly misplaced strangers – Ciara (Georgina Campbell, maintaining her genre quota following 2022’s breakout success Barbarian), Madeline (Olwen Fouéré) and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan) – await their nightly routine of presenting themselves to “the Watchers.”

Just who these unseen forces referred to as the Watchers are is an initial mystery, and it’s when we don’t know their motivations that the film itself manages a certain sense of impressive tension.  Shyamalan has a clear eye for the eminence of restraint, and the way she navigates the forestry and the glass containment Mina and co. reluctantly camp in speaks to her strength as a visual director.

Then, unfortunately, the Watchers are revealed, and, as much as Shyamalan tries, their ominous aura and the unnerving intrigue that surrounded them is dropped in a manner that sees the film unable to entirely recover.  I’ll admit that it travelled in a direction I didn’t anticipate, but there’s a lack of ultimate sinisterness to the titular characters that undoes so much of the suggested brutality and voyeurism the first half of the film lays down, with a repetitive nature and ultimate adherence to silliness seeing the film end on a less threatening note than when it began.

That being said, as underwhelming The Watchers may be with its reveal, there’s no taking away from Shyamalan’s prowess behind the camera and the fact that it’s a beautiful horror-adjacent film to look at.  The tension she’s able to build is quite masterful at times, and I’m personally excited to see what she can conjure as a filmmaker working off her own ideas.


The Watchers is now screening in Australian theatres.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.