Watcher (Review) – A Chilling Stalker Thriller

DIRECTOR: Chloe Okuno

CAST: Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Burn Gorman, Mãdãlina Anea, Cristina Deleanu, Daniel Nuță

RUNNING TIME: 91 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A woman (Monroe) suspects that a possibly dangerous man (Gorman) is watching her from his apartment…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

On the surface, writer-director Chloe Okuno’s debut feature Watcher is not that much different than classic thrillers like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Roman Polanski’s The Tenant. All these movies deal with the inescapable fear of being watched by someone unfamiliar and most likely dangerous, while dealing with the psychological fallout of being the observed figure in this disturbingly one-sided relationship. However, where Okuno’s film manages to strike out on its own is in how it handles this familiar thriller concept from a decisively female point of view, specifically focusing on the lack of support when they express their justifiable concerns, which in some ways makes it far more terrifying. Okuno manages this in a film that is suitably creepy and suspenseful, while also offering some thoughtful themes that films like this don’t often have the time or even the patience to go into.

The film begins as American couple Julia (Maika Monroe) and Francis (Karl Glusman) arrive at their new apartment in Bucharest, where he has been hired to lead the local team of his company. Although Francis is easily able to adapt to the new surroundings, having grown up with Romanian family members, Julia struggles much harder to learn the language and make new friends, leaving her much more alone and isolated while he works long hours. Soon, she notices a strange figure (Burn Gorman) in the opposite building who seems to be looking in on her, which at first she dismisses as natural creepy behaviour, but when she hears of a potential serial killer on the loose in the area, Julia begins to suspect that not only is this mysterious figure the killer, but that he has begun stalking her throughout the city. To make matters worse, Julia appears to be married to the one guy who always seems to rationalise her legitimate fears, and offers little to no support whenever she expresses concern.

While there are many unsettling sequences that rely heavily on mood, atmosphere, and even sound in order to illicit a genuine audience response, the scariest attribute of Watcher is its ability to make the viewer feel as isolated as Maika Monroe’s character. Okuno places her in virtually every scene, where she is either by herself wandering around the area or in her apartment, or being beside her husband as he engages in heavy Romanian conversation with other colleagues; in all scenarios, Monroe’s character is noticeably alone, unable to work the situation in her favour and encountering people who constantly push her down, even when she has every right to express fear in uncomfortable moments. It’s a very smartly structured film, as Okuno also applies these feelings that the character has to the overall set-up of the camera, editing, musical score and lighting, which all work together to replicate that eerie isolation for the viewers themselves, who like Julia are left alone without being able to go to anyone for legitimate help.

Okuno also leaves you intentionally frustrated by the people who fail to recognise, and thereby indirectly enable, the signs that there is someone out there terrorising this woman. For instance, Karl Glusman is playing a character who thinks he’s the loving and supportive nuclear husband, but by attempting to rationalise his wife’s very real fears he engages in a level of gaslighting that regularly undermines her emotional well-being without directly abusing it, which from the perspective of so many women in problematic relationships must surely be an all-too familiar concept. Ironically, the only man in this movie who actually sees Julia for who she truly is, is the possible serial killer who’s been peering in on her; Burn Gorman, who isn’t in the movie that much but still gives a chilling performance whenever he’s on-screen (opposite a truly great lead turn by Maika Monroe), reflects her own inner desire to find intrigue and meaning in her new life, no matter how much danger it puts herself and others in, and his unnerving appearances – particularly early on, such as in a tense sequence in a supermarket where he’s always lurking in the background – serve as a type of physical embodiment of the phrase “be careful what you wish for”.

It’s a smart and calculated thriller that lends thought to the uneasy feeling that not only are you being watched, but nobody believes that they’re really as dangerous as they clearly are. With this film, Okuno announces herself as a formidable voice that can take a familiar thriller concept, and give it a whole new lease of life by aligning it with real concerns in our divisive society. It’s a movie that can give you chills and also make you think about the themes and underlying social commentary, so even when it does do some of the more familiar conventions, you’re at least still engaged enough to look past its more standard features.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Watcher is a smartly calculated psychological thriller that plays with the familiar concept of being observed by dangerous eyes, in this case playing into the isolation and frustrating gaslighting that Maika Monroe’s central character experiences, while also delivering its chills in legitimately creepy and unsettling ways that make writer-director Chloe Okuno a thriller filmmaker to watch.

Watcher is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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