Watcher is a generic and often frustrating stalker thriller – but Maika Monroe puts on an excellent performance as tormented lead Julia.
The feature debut of director Chloe Okuno, who helmed one of the shorts that make up the critically acclaimed V/H/S/94, Watcher is a disappointingly generic but basically serviceable thriller. It’s predictable, frustrating, and often lacks suspense, but Maika Monroe holds things together in the leading role.
Julia (Monroe) has just moved to Bucharest, Romania with her husband (Karl Glusman). Isolated by the language barrier and hearing reports of a serial killer on the loose in the city, she becomes increasingly unsettled by a man watching her from an apartment across the street. Cue the paranoid peering out of windows, the tentative looks over her shoulder, and disbelieving husband acting embarrassed of his ‘paranoid’ wife. This is nothing new, but at least, unlike The Woman In The Window, the protagonists are sensible enough to actually invest in some curtains.
In the beginning, the man in the window opposite is an imposing figure. Even more so when he’s simply a silhouette, lurking, but clearly still looking (there’s those curtains coming in handy again). These are the moments filled with the most suspense – when Julia looks, and he looks back. We keep expecting to eventually see a face, but the figure is always indistinguishable. When Julia goes outside, and still feels like she’s being followed, the film loses some of this tension.
There’s an attempt to make these scenes, where she hides around corners and panics at the prospect of her stalker watching more than just her home, tense and suspenseful. Despite Monroe’s panicked performance, this just doesn’t happen the majority of the time. It’s because of the lack of momentum. For every slightly tense stalking scene, there’s a much longer one of her simply talking things over with her husband (a conversation which happens often and gets fairly repetitive). Instead of creating a steady build-up of suspense, it’s built and then diffused again repeatedly.
As Julia attempts to investigate the man she suspects of being her stalker (Burn Gorman, having a good time) the tension also gets overcome by the frustrating writing. At points the screenplay captures perfectly a woman who’s deathly afraid – during one scene Julia’s scared to even open the door when it knocks. But then, moments later, she’s following a man she believes may be a stalker or even murderer through dark subways and into dodgy-looking buildings. These actions, while predictable for a film like this, are totally incongruous with a woman who feels unsafe.
Not much time is given to character development, either, with the only thing we know about the leading duo being their jobs. Nothing personal is revealed about them, and they have little in the way of personality. In terms of the latter, the one exception is Julia’s new neighbour Irena (Madalina Anea) who proves to be rather likable.
Unfortunately, the patchy writing culminates in a predictable final act. You won’t be surprised at what happens, and a half-hearted attempt at a slightly shocking ending turns out to be a disappointing fake-out.
Watcher is a basically enjoyable outing for fans of the paranoid thriller, with good performances but uneven writing. Just don’t go in expecting it to reinvent the wheel.
Watcher screens on 10th June at Sundance London Film Festival.
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