In 1954, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window took the world by storm. It was not the first voyeuristic film in Hitchcock’s filmography (nor would it be the last), but the thriller in an urban center opened the doors for similar movies. The trope, watching your neighbors until they commit murder, became something of a trope for setting up thrillers. The latest film to join this esteemed sub-genre comes from director Chloe Okuno. Okuno’s feature debut., Watcher brings Maika Monroe back to the mainstream. The creepy and grounded tale might be evident on its face, but honesty shines through with the frequency that women must hide from scary men.
Following a couple moving to Bucharest, Watcher follows our young protagonist Julia (Monroe). For Julia, the move pushes her further away from friends and family, while her partner Francis (Karl Glusman) continues to succeed in his career. The house contains ceiling-length windows, allowing Julia to see out with excellent visibility. After a figure from the other apartment complex waves at her, Julia begins to fear she is being watched.
If the film wanted to hide the twists and turns, it would have changed the name to something less obvious. Instead, Okuno’s story of horror, gaslighting, and danger all seem intent on proving the need to believe women. Okuno instead opts for tragedy and realism, creating a grittiness that becomes impossible to look away from. She succeeds in developing an overall tone of danger, but her actors bring home the pathos. Allowing the performers to give it their all allows Okuno to focus on exquisite cinematography and a terrifying score.
Monroe shines throughout the film. Her frustration becomes palpable and worrying as the story continues to unfold. She opens up with a genuinely internal performance that hits raw nerves at every chance. To let us watch her reinvestigation of internal trauma while simultaneously believing there’s a threat against her life, can be unnerving. Monroe, the star of It Follows) appears game for this challenge. Without her genuine fear and worrying for her safety, there’s no movie here. Monroe steps up and proves her considerable acting talent is far from a fluke.
Gorman once again proves why he’s one of the most underrated actors in the industry. He can play the chilling stillness of his role with no problem. He adds menace because of his physical appearance, but he also knows how to turn up the chilling nature. The jump from frightening visually to mentally frightening can become complex in films like Watcher, but Gorman succeeds on every level. His performance is truly one of the most upsetting of the year.
Just as essential to the film’s tone as Monroe and Gorman’s performance is the terrifying cinematography of Benjamin Kirk Nielsen. The DP frames Monroe and Gorman to perfection throughout the film, adding tension to sequences with long takes. The feeling of paranoia sweeps over the audience, and in many cases, there must be scenes where no one is watching Julia at all. Yet how Nielsen moves the camera and frames, set-pieces opens the door for near-constant scares. The haunting nature of Nielsen’s lens further enhances the scary-beyond-all-reason sequences in the film.
Watcher never pretends to reinvent the wheel, and that’s a good thing. Telling an honest story with an easy-to-follow narrative allows the team to operate at the highest levels possible. When everyone can bring their A+ game, instead of trying to work in non-sensical twists and turns, it allows a film to succeed where others fail. Watcher stands the chance of becoming a very popular film in the next few years, and as it seeps into the culture, its ability to resonate will only grow.
Alan’s Grade: 7 out of 10