Paranoia Abounds in Gloriously Unnerving Watcher (2022)
First Non-Festival Release: June 3, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Chloe Okuno
Writer: Zack Ford, Chloe Okuno
Runtime: 91 Minutes
Starring: Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Burn Gorman
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Former actress Julia (Maika Monroe) uproots her life to move across the world with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) for his latest promotion. Now, Julia spends her days alternating between wandering Bucharest and learning Romanian in her spacious apartment while Francis goes to work at his marketing firm. As the days go on, Julia can’t help the feeling that she is being watched, particularly by a man in an apartment window across from theirs. Her fears only heighten when she hears about the serial killer tormenting the city dubbed “the Spider.” On edge and being made to feel like she is imagining everything, Julia must determine if the silhouette means her harm or if someone else is after her.
A good old fashioned paranoid thriller with clear giallo inspirations, Watcher is a dread inducing experience that will shake you.
The story of Watcher has been told time and again, mostly because women have been forced to endure these trials for years and society refuses to progress. Generally, no new ground is broken here but the film continues to push the conversation about the perils of not believing women. From unserious police officers, irritated neighbors, and exasperated partners, there is no shortage of people in Julia’s life at their wit’s end with her claims. In the end, Julia realizes she can only rely on herself and trust her instincts screaming at her to leave.
Maika Monroe is a force to be reckoned with and her portrayal of Julia continues to prove herself to be a commendable genre actress. Balancing quiet fury, self-doubt, and fearless determination, Monroe transforms Julia into someone beyond the typical damsel in distress one might find in the giallos that inspire Watcher. She may experience emotions and have trouble making the right decisions, but Julia is given enough room to make mistakes and grow from her fear. Monroe pushes this with subtle choices from a quiet yet confident knock on a door to a bold takedown of her partner in front of everyone at drinks. At one point, Julia muses “I should say go fuck yourself” more often and it is so satisfying to see Monroe convincingly take her there.
Contrasting to Monroe’s lengthy screentime and character development, Burn Gorman manages to craft a compelling and creepy character in Daniel, as the titular watcher. Gorman keeps the audience on edge with his constant fluctuation between the terrifying and the piteous. He leans into the paranoia by giving just enough cues in both directions to fire every alarm bell in the audience, much like Julia. His vocal choices particularly shine as he speaks softly yet is capable of such venom that it chills the bone.
While the heavy tension is what makes Watcher excellent, its visual depth deserves even more praise. Hopping from scenic location to location, Watcher is not short on breathtaking scenery. The expansive nature of Bucharest contrasts with the crushing isolation Julia feels throughout her time in the city. Wide open spaces in the train, courthouse, and even her apartment serve no refuge for her as she finds her sanity crumbling away with every moment passing.
Director Chloe Okuno ensures Julia’s descent is realized by adeptly framing Julia in ways that mirror her own feelings. Julia is trapped, not only forced to spend so much time by herself but also by nature of her inability to speak Romanian. This crushing feeling is mimicked by close ups that center Julia throughout the film. The voyeuristic feeling the Watcher might get from spying on Julia is paralleled to the views that the audience gets when Okuno chooses to fade in and out as she goes about her day. This methodical approach adds to the wonderous tension of Watcher.
Unnerving, claustrophobic, and beautifully filmed, Watcher takes a familiar tale and squeezes out the maximum amount of tension to evoke the constant sense of paranoia Julia feels. A conventional story is told through the tight direction of Okuno, who expertly sets each scene with a degree of unbearable intimacy and foot tapping anticipation. Monroe’s performance as Julia elevates the film even higher with her captivating presence and command of the camera. While it lacks the surprises many may hope for in this setup, Watcher makes up for it with pure cinematic dread until its triumphant conclusion. There’s no question that this is one film that is an absolute must watch.
Overall Score? 7.5/10