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They're Watching (Movie Review)

They're Watching (Movie Review)
03.23.2016by: Jake Dee
5 10

PLOT: When a small American TV crew travels to Moldova to scout a new house hunting location, a sinister vibe from the locals grows into something far more accursed. Guess what...THEY'RE WATCHING!

REVIEW: Okay, so what do you get when you combine a videogame scribe in Micha Wright and his pal Jay Lender, a feature first-time director only known for helming the beloved cartoon Phineas and Ferb? Yup, you get THEY'RE WATCHING, a mildly droll docu-horror comedy that boasts a pretty engrossing conceit, fresh setting and decently drawn characters, only to fizzle out with the culmination of a poorly designed CG multimedia melange of the two. That is, by the end, you feel like you're watching a cartoonish videogame to rival the visual panache of a 1987 He-Man episode. Sort of a bummer really, because the first half of the flick props up a dare I say original premise that really could have been allocated to far more unnerving ends. Alas, once movie reveals itself as falling into a particular subgenre, we can't help but be reminded of far better offerings in its own camp. THE WITCH instantly leaps to mind in that regard, but even if it didn't, THEY'RE WATCHING hasn't the lasting spectacle to truly cast a spell.

The flick kicks off with a spiffy TV ad for House Hunters Global, a home-finding-and-fixing reality TV program you'd typically see on Discovery channel. We meet the on and off air talent of the show, namely producer Kate (Carrie Genzel), cameraman Greg (David Alpay), boom operator Alex (Kris Lemche) and PA Sarah (Mia Faith). As the action starts, the crew has found a perfect before-and-after home in which to center an episode of their TV show upon. They whisk production all the way out to Pavlovka, Moldova, where they've found the perfect fixer-upper to feature on House Hunters Global. It's in this foreign land we meet local liaison Vladimir (Dimitri Diatchenko) and the new owner of the ramshackle abode, the gorgeous Becky (Brigid Brannagh). Things go swimmingly at first. That is, until the crew returns to the isolated farm house months later, after the entire place has been refurbished. The crew is tasked with staying in town in order to shoot a full episode of their reality program, but as the title suggests, the eerily askance leers from the locals aren't received so warmly. They're paying extra close attention indeed!

But it isn't until the word "witch" is loudly uttered by one of the film crew members inside a local bar called, of all things, The Burning Stake, that intentions are laid bare. It's here where the movie reveals its machinations, that's it's all been building toward the reveal of an ancient culture of witchery and occultic Eastern European lore. Until this point the film could have adhered to any number of subgenres - creepy villagers, masked slasher, woodland monsters, you name it. And to be honest, I'd argue the best part of the flick is in the first 45 minutes or so, as the right tonal balance between fish out of water humor is met with the inherent geographic mysticism and potential terror therein. I liked the setup, character banter, creepily ambient location and frankly, not knowing exactly where it was all headed. Once the truth of the plot is unveiled however, the movie sort of falls victim to rote genre trappings, easily spotted culprits, and thus, unfolds a far more predictable outcome. In other words, the strength of the movie is in its setup and withheld mystery. Once we're privy however, the flick loses steam in a quick hurry.

In specific, the poor-CG-laced finale just doesn't sell. The VFX are embarrassingly chintzy, and any credibility banked by the characters in the first half of the film becomes sullied by the cartoonish hokum of the last few minutes. It renders all we've seen before it incredible, unbelievable. I do want to give props to the cast of the film for giving their all and making more or less likeable characters out of what they're given, Diatchenko as Vlad and Brannagh as Becky in particular. The latter is nothing short of gorgeous, and her soft and sexy demeanor goes a long way in shrouding her true character. I definitely want to see more of her. Unfortunately, the sub $4 million budget for the flick disallows her to really shine in the one spot really necessary to make a durable impact...the finale. As it is, the overwrought CGI turns what could have been a solid tale of ancient witchcraft into a bit of a laughing stock. I know the flick is billed as a horror-comedy, but the last place you want the laughs to come is in the desirably frightening finale.

In capping it, THEY'RE WATCHING is a classic tale of two halves. The first part of the movie does a wonderful job of establishing a rather original premise, boasting an inherently creepy locale chock full of historical menace (shot in Romania), and even draws a cast of characters we can more or less get behind. But when the film final exposes itself to be one of ancient witchery, all of the aforementioned freshness grows pretty stale. THE WITCH this is not, but to be fair, very few films will ever be. But even as a lighter companion piece, THEY'RE WATCHING works less as an exercise in cinematic witchcraft than it does a portentous creepy-village or ominous fish out of water movie. The foreign setting, eerie locals and mystery surrounding why all the townsfolk act so shady is where the movie is at its most compelling. When its shows its face in the second half, it's far less attractive. I'm not so sure that's the trait you want to be known for when THEY'RE WATCHING!

Extra Tidbit: THEY'RE WATCHING hits select theaters Friday, March 25th.
Source: AITH

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