Written and Directed by Chloe Okuno.
Starring Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Burn Gorman, Tudor Petruț, Gabriela Butuc, Madalina Anea, Cristina Deleanu, Daniel Nuta, Ioana Abur, Flaviu Crisan, and Florian Ghimpu.
As a citywide panic is brewing over a possible serial killer on the loose, Julia – a young actress who just moved to town with her husband – notices a mysterious stranger watching her from across the street.
Maika Monroe is consistently excellent at expressing anxiety and paranoia in the sub-genre of being stalked (whether it be something supernatural in one of the greatest horror films of the 2010s, It Follows, or even campy schlock like Greta), so her serving as the anchor for director Chloe Okuno’s (who seems to have reworked a screenplay from Zack Ford) directorial debut (with some credits to her name including V/H/S/94 segment Storm Drain) Watcher is a no-brainer casting choice.
The film sees Julia (Monroe) tagging along to Bucharest with her marketing businessman husband Francis (Karl Glusman), setting up a luxurious apartment. Immediately, viewers are immersed in Julia’s foreign perspective, with no subtitles, unable to understand the Romanian dialogue. Things also get eerie as the cinematography from Benjamin Kirk Nielsen voyeuristically pulls away as Julia and Francis make love for the first time in their new home. The next day, Francis heads to work, leaving Julia alone to study the Romanian language and attempt basic actions like ordering coffee from a local shop. She also makes a few friends, including the bilingual Irina (Madalina Anea), while getting acquainted with other neighbors and residents.
Julia also notices a silhouette watching her from the adjacent apartment building. Rightfully startled, especially given recent news reports of a serial killer murdering young women, she feels suffocated and like a potential target. She also feels validated by coming across a strange man (creepily played by Burn Gorman) too often to be chalked up as coincidence. Even if he is not the killer, there is something unquestionably wrong with this silent, seemingly empty man (and it’s hard not to feel like the film ends just when it’s getting intriguing exploring his motives). Scenes between Maika Monroe and Burn Gorman would be almost unbearably tense to watch based on their performances alone, but the camera’s proximity to Julia heightens that sense of claustrophobia and impending doom. You feel that anxiety attack right alongside Julia.
Francis disagrees about the situation. He is willing to entertain Julia’s uncomfortable feelings but doesn’t treat her experiences as legitimate signs of endangerment. He grows increasingly agitated and begins taking advantage of the language barrier to mock her in front of his work associates. As a result, Irina is the faithful, supportive companion here, posing a controversial but reasonable question regarding the stalking and whether or not it’s worth it to be vindicated as correct. Regardless of the answer, Irina believes Julia. And due to Irina’s job as an underground club dancer, attuned to being ogled, she lends Julia a dash of courage to overcome this oppression and confront these fears.
Watcher is assuredly a movie about the payoff, as involving and superbly crafted as the film is. The script wants to say something about the consequences of men not listening to women or taking their concerns seriously, with an ending to hammer that home ruthlessly. However, for such a pleasantly grounded and terrifying character study, the closing moments of Watcher develop cold feet and double back on its message (which hurts doubly so coming off of some unpleasant, disturbing symmetrical imagery that could be read into multiple ways), preferring a crowd-pleasing ending. It doesn’t feel like it is the right choice for this particular story, but Watcher is worth looking at.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com