Watcher is part of our Overlook Film Festival coverage and can now be streamed on Shudder.
According to the New York State Attorney General, 1 in 12 women will be stalked during their lifetime† That is to say, it makes sense that stalking was a bit of a theme at Overlook Film Festival. Jethica and Shudder’s Watcher both starred in the shortened lineup of films from the 4-day festival. While the former introduces a spectral element, Chloe Okuno’s Watcher anchors itself in the harsh, cold reality.
Maika Monroe plays Julia, an American woman who has followed her husband to Bucharest, Romania. She doesn’t speak the language, she has no friends, but she is doing having a neighbor who just can’t get her out of his mind. Reports of a serial killer called The Spider heighten tensions as Julia desperately tries to make someone believe that someone is following her every move.
Okuno builds suspense with an effectiveness that makes it almost hard to believe that Watcher is her feature film debut. †F/H/S/94 fans, you know her from the meme-worthy Raatma segment. Hail Raatma!) Sustained camera work, a slow, building narrative, and the decision to keep the stalker faceless for much of the film’s runtime all work together to create a bubbling tension.
Enough cannot be said about what Monroe is putting in the lead role. Julia has a determination that will make Watcher’s slow-paced story more palatable to audiences that typically avoid that kind of storytelling pace. As tensions mount, we see Julia experience a series of believable, human reactions to what is going on around her. the isolation; the euphoria of finding a special friend in a sea of people you don’t know; and the whole range of emotions you go through while being lit by gas creates something terrifyingly relativity in Julia’s story.
On the other side of that coin is Burn Gorman, billed only as “Watcher” in the film’s credits. While you’ll have to watch the movie (it’s available on Shudder) to find out if he’s a red herring or the one really responsible for Julia’s nightmare, Gorman brings a quiet creepiness to his character.
The story of the film plays an important and interesting trick with Gorman’s character. In stories about stalkers, scripts often tend to portray their “viewers” as creepy critters that bump into at night. But the Watcher has a humanity that both contributes to the suspension of disbelief and makes the story more realistic. Is Julia being gassed by everyone around her – including her stalker – or has she really gone mad in her newfound isolation? These questions always feel like they have such an obvious outcome in stories like this one, but several scenes do their best to make you wonder what exactly is For real going on in Bucharest.
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