The Watched (2024, dir. Ishana Night Shyamalan)

by | Jun 9, 2024

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 102 mins

UK Distributor: Warner Bros

UK Release Date: 7 June 2024

WHO’S IN THE WATCHED?

Dakota Fanning, Georgina Campbell, Oliver Finnegan, Olwen Fouéré, Siobhan Hewlett, Hannah Howland, Alistair Brammer, Charles Camrose, Kya Brame, Cara Steele, Shane O’Regan, Anthony Morris, Charlie Mann

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Ishana Night Shyamalan (director, writer), Nimitt Mankad, Ashwin Rajan and M. Night Shyamalan (producers), Abel Korzeniowski (composer), Eli Arenson (cinematographer), Job ter Burg (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A group of people are trapped in a mysterious forest where they are observed by strange creatures…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE WATCHED?

They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but for Ishana Night Shyamalan – the first-time filmmaker whose father happens to be a certain M. Night Shyamalan – she is not even capable of falling off said tree. That is because Shyamalans Sr. and Jr. share such a similar approach to their separate visions of storytelling that one would be forgiven for thinking that the more famous Shyamalan made The Watched (as it’s known in the UK for some reason, instead of its regular title The Watchers) instead of his daughter, since it carries many of the filmmaker’s typical traits such as odd character quirks and uncanny camera angles, not to mention enough twists to tie the whole thing into a knot.

The difference, though, is that while Shyamalan Sr. has had plenty of time to hone his craft and develop it into the eccentric auteur vision we know and admire today, Shyamalan Jr. is still trying to work it all out. Ishana certainly has experience, as she has served as second unit director on M. Night’s Old and Knock at the Cabin and has also directed episodes of the M. Night-produced series Servant, but with this being her fully-fledged feature debut as a filmmaker, it’s clear that she needs as much time herself to figure out how to tell a thoroughly compelling story, because The Watched is unfortunately messy.

Set in Ireland, the film follows an American woman named Mina (Dakota Fanning), who works in a pet store and is haunted by a traumatic childhood incident. Tasked with transporting a parrot named Darwin to its new owner in Belfast, Mina ends up travelling through a secluded forest that she soon finds herself trapped in, unable to escape. She soon finds refuge in a mysterious building with a see-through glass mirror, alongside three other inhabitants: Ciara (Georgina Campbell), Daniel (Oliver Finnegan) and Madeline (Olwen Fouéré). They explain to Mina that they are being observed by mysterious creatures known as “the Watchers”, and that they must all abide by a set of rules during the nighttime when they are observed by them like an animal menagerie. As Mina attempts to satisfy the Watchers’ bizarre needs while also finding a way out of the forest, she comes across some shocking evidence regarding the origin of the creatures themselves.

Like a lot of her father’s films, Ishana Night Shyamalan has a compelling way of getting her audience initially on board. The filmmaker is certainly skilled in setting up a number of intriguing camera shots, and is undeniably in tune with cinematographer Eli Arenson’s eerie lighting that makes this forest rather intimidating to be in at times. She also gets some solid performances out of her actors, with a strong turn from Dakota Fanning leading the brigade as the actor makes up for her protagonist’s ultimate flatness as a character with a conduct that admirably aims for a subtler approach than your regular horror movie performance. There are even parts of her script that introduce some compelling ideas, like the fact that these people have to essentially partake in an odd sense of theatrics to entertain their unseen observers, as well as the fact that they have limited supplies to entertain themselves in the meantime (the only DVD in the establishment is a collection of episodes from a Love Island-like dating show, which is perhaps the clearest sign that they’re all in hell).

However, Ishana Night Shyamalan has a problem with actually executing or even following through on any of these ideas in ways that are as intriguing as they initially seem. Her script is practically drowning in endless exposition, with characters talking among each other about little else beyond what the Watchers themselves are, certain things that may have happened in the interim, and even what they intend to do in the very next scene, all in unnecessarily strong detail. The constant descriptive dialogue leaves very little room for these characters to actually seem like real people, leaving you not caring much for them as they attempt to make it out of this rather unnerving situation, and since there are no real moments where it feels like you are meant to be truly scared or even the least bit startled, it becomes very dull to sit through as there is a complete absence of tension and suspense that might have otherwise made up for its monotonous storytelling.

When the film does get more into what is actually going on, as well as revealing certain twists along the way (because, y’know, Shyamalan), it somehow becomes even more tedious. That’s because they are the kind of reveals that only raise further questions about these characters and their situation rather than explain any of them, and as it gets into an overlong climax – which begins right after a more meaningful end point – it just gets sillier and sillier to a point where it starts to become unbearably underwhelming. It feels like Ishana is trying too hard to be like her more renowned father, which isn’t necessarily a bad goal to set for oneself, but in this case Shyamalan Jr. doesn’t have quite as unique or as interesting a grasp on storytelling as Shyamalan Sr., who even at his weakest still found ways to make his style entertaining, albeit not always for the intended reasons.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be like our parents, because Lord knows that’s all they ever want from their children, but Ishana Night Shyamalan might be best suited to forging her own path out of her father’s shadow, because The Watched shows that staying safe within it might not be the healthiest thing for her.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Watched is a dreary and monotonous thriller from writer-director Ishana Night Shyamalan, who despite having a good eye for effective cinematography and strong performances, particularly from Dakota Fanning, lets herself down with an exposition-heavy script that seems to replicate too much of her father M. Night Shyamalan’s particular style.

Two out of five stars

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