It’s an old story. A young lady in an apartment notices someone in an adjacent apartment watching her, fear and paranoia sets in. A story told so many times I am getting confused with those that a out there. I remember one with Lauren Hutton, another with Steve Guttenberg and a late night cable offering with no one particularly notable but a somewhat sexy approach amongst others. The more I think about them, I can’t quite think of one that was genuinely poor. It seems to be a sub-genre that has a pretty strong competition, yet Watcher might just be on the top of that pile.
Moving to Romania, Julia and Francis, rent a plush apartment in Bucharest. Francis has been promoted and has found success yet deep responsibility in work. Julia is left home alone a lot, with little knowledge of the local dialect and less friends. Unsettled and bored Julia notices a hazy face at a window across the street. Mostly unphased Julia carries on with her acclimatisation. On a rare evening out with Francis the two spectate police activity in the aftermath of a brutal murder in the streets nearby their home. Julia notices the face again in the window and become anxious that this could be the killer and they are now watching her.
Watcher moves as slow as they come. A welcome approach, the muted colours of the background match the muted approach as there is very little gore and next to no shocks or scares. Watcher creates a slow sense of dread and enjoys it. Julia is fragile, alone and, like the apartment block across the street, slowly crumbling. The foreboding weather outside keeps Julia in her apartment for the larger portion of the movie. However, Julia uses the limited resources she has available to her to tip the scales.
Watcher has a few scenes outside of the apartment setting. The filmmakers take us onto the streets, a library, a classy ball and a seedy underground club. Each one is shot beautifully and enjoying the architecture and beauty that Bucharest presents, mirrored by the dingy, flooded back streets that go unseen by so many.
The film is not packed with characters. Julia’s boyfriend is largely missing and when present at social engagements he cuts her out of conversation by speaking in Romanian with his work colleagues. Director Chloe Okuno masterfully disconnects Julia from the life of her boyfriend, as she stands alone, watching. Julia makes firm friends with her neighbour, Irina, who provides some much needed solace during Julia’s ordeal. Additionally, Julia makes use of Irina’s ex-boyfriend. Each of the characters is far from being a stereotype, and it well rounded and beautifully performed.
It is hard to talk about Watcher without mentioning the Watcher, without spoilers. The Watcher themselves is a treat and the approach is a little different that many may anticipate. Dialogue involving the Watcher is well written and a fascinatingly creepy insight.
As Julia, Maika Monroe, really needs to be singled out. Much like It Follows, the entire film revolves around her and there is never a moment you aren’t there for her and Monroe’s performance has the audience glued to the screen . Every incident adds another layer of pressure to Julia and you can easily see the strain affects Julia at every turn, through physical signs, to wardrobe choices, to panicked actions and reactions. Julia gives a fantastically understated performance, real and raw.
Simply put, Watcher is easily one of the better horror thrillers of the year. It may be the definitive of its type and at that a significant achievement.
Poster art for Watcher is beautiful and sophisticated. There is a lot going on in each, but then there is quite a bit going on in the movie for such a simple premise. The red satin dress is a notable standout.