A thriller that both leans into the formulaic mentality of the genre whilst simultaneously hoping to combat it, Watcher, from director Chloe Okuno (V/H/S/ 94), is a dread-filled effort that plays on the terrors of voyeurism.
Gorgeously shot, though consistently lingering with uncertainty, Watcher lays focus on Julia (Maika Monroe, always a welcome presence in genre products), an American who has moved to Romania with her partner (Karl Glusman), a native returning home off the acceptance of a job promotion. Having given up her acting career, Julia spends many of her days and nights alone, something all too narratively convenient when she starts to feel unnerved at the belief she is being watched.
As is tradition with such films Julia’s sanity is questioned, but the fact that there is a serial killer stalking the city – one known as “The Spider”, an elusive killer with a penchant for butchering women – means her fears are validated. Whilst a more traditional studio effort would have played up this angle in a bid to make the story more “exciting”, Okuno and screenwriter Zack Ford opt for a more grounded approach, with much of Watcher slinking by as Julia weaves in and out of her apartment and around the city, trying to uncover just who is stalking her; it isn’t until the film’s sporadically violent climax that it aligns itself with a more standard, expected temperament.
It’s the film’s final moments where much of what’s been lingering in the background of the plot comes to fruition, and for a brief moment it feels like Okuno is going to be truly bold and end on a killer shot that would entirely sober the experience. Unfortunately, there’s a conventionality to Watcher that can’t be ignored.
Whatever narrative or tonal criticisms the film earns though, none can be pointed at Monroe who carries this Rear Window-inspired chiller on her shoulders with immaculate ease. Scared as she is angry, and strong as she is fearful, her performance consistently pulls us in with an emotionality that these types of genre pieces aren’t always afforded.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Watcher is screening as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which is being presented virtually between January 20th and 30th, 2022. For more information head to the official Sundance page.