Watch Over Us, 2017.
Directed by F.C. Rabbath.
Starring Avery Kristen Pohl, Ella Schaefer, Daniel Link, Henry Tisdale, and Hudson Meeks.
A father and his young daughters move onto their grandfather’s secluded farm following the breakup of their parents. But once there, they are soon plagued by paranormal events that reveal a deadly secret that has haunted the family for generations, and an evil force that demands they uphold a deadly promise made by their ancestors.
Supernatural horror films have become a genre of their own in their recent years, kickstarted by the phenomenal popularity of the Paranormal Activity franchise, which spawned countless imitators and led to studios putting out as many similarly-themed films as they could – The Devil Inside, Devil’s Due, The Bye Bye Man… the list is almost endless. We even got another entry into the Blair Witch series, which unfortunately failed to connect with audiences, as have a number of the more recent entries in the genre.
Watch Over Us is yet another paranormal-themed horror film, however the one thing that sets it apart from many of its contemporaries is its production – this is a small, micro-budget indie, written, directed, shot and edited by the same guy – F.C. Rabbath, a young American filmmaker who, at only 30 years old, already has 32 directing credits to his name. Granted, most of these are shorts, but Rabbath certainly can’t be called unsuccessful. In fact, with Watch Over Us, he’s following in the footsteps of the makers of The Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity, both of which were also shot on tiny budgets.
The story centers around Jon (Daniel Link), a single father unsuccessfully looking for work – and love – living with his ailing dad (Henry Tisdale) and his two teenage daughters, Eliza (Avery Kristen Pohl) and Becca (Ella Schaefer) in dad’s big house on the edge of a forest. Eliza and Becca are worried about the strange noises they keep hearing around the house, which Jon dismisses as animals outside, however the return of their older brother Sam (Hudson Meeks) to the household leads to Jon – and the girls – discovering a disturbing truth about the noises in the house, which soon move to the barn out back…
From the offset, it’s clear that Rabbath was working with a very small budget. Watch Over Us looks like it was shot on a less-professional camera than a larger-budget feature, and the majority of the film takes place in and around the family home, however Rabbath makes good use of his limited resources and knows how to keep the audience engaged when working with only a small number of locations. The fact that we’re almost constantly in the house or the nearby barn adds to the feeling of inescapable fear – the family doesn’t get away from the mysterious entity stalking them, and neither do we. There’s a fair amount of handheld camerawork, although this too can be effective.
If the film’s strongest points are its production values – and they certainly are – its weakest points are its script and performances. As our stressed single father lead, Daniel Link almost instantly feels miscast – he looks more like a typical “tough guy” than a harried father struggling to find work and a romantic partner. That said, Rabbath’s script doesn’t exactly give the cast much to work with. The story itself is fine, with some interesting turns, but the dialogue often feels off, with characters ending up feeling more like stereotypes than actual people. The choice to have the eldest daughter randomly spout the f-word on occasion comes across as forced – sure, teens do swear, although here it feels like it was added in as an afterthought and doesn’t wholly fit with the character. Despite this, Ella Schaefer gives easily the best performance – she mostly delivers with genuine conviction and does everything she can to flesh-out her character, it’s just a shame she’s riddled with such unnatural dialogue, although she really does do her best with it.
As for the scares, to be honest there really aren’t that many. Unusually for this kind of film, the ending actually isn’t too predictable, and the second act reveal is handled well, although as a horror film, particularly a paranormal one, it doesn’t feel as, well, scary, as it should. The first twenty minutes, which are focused mainly on character-building and setting up the story, work better than when the film’s in more conventional horror territory. There is, however, a nice slow build-up to the all-out third act, and the film overall doesn’t feel rushed or even too short, despite its 70-minute running time.
Unlike its bigger-budget bedfellows, Watch Over Us probably won’t find a particularly big audience, given its small budget and video on demand-exclusive release, although if you’re a paranormal completist and are looking for something to watch that’s a bit different from the larger franchise films, you could certainly do a lot worse.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★