The Watcher (2000) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

The latest episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie looks back at the 2000 serial killer thriller The Watcher, starring Keanu Reeves

The The Watcher episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? was Written by Emilie Black, Narrated by Adam Walton, Edited by Juan Jimenez, Produced by Andrew Hatfield and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

The late 1990s and early 2000s had an interesting subgenre of films come forward and be popular, a sort of serial killers versus cops thing that had a few entries including Copycat, The Bone Collector, Kiss the Girls, Taking Lives, and The Watcher (watch it HERE). There was something about them that was on the edge of horror, but not so far into the genre that general audiences would skip out. They were often marketed as thrillers to avoid the word horror as if it were a bad, evil word. Most of them starred big names and familiar faces and had a variety of locations. There was a connective link between all of these, and it was their style and how they approached the horror at the center of their themes, making them easy access for general audiences and helping them garner popularity.

The film’s story is that of a serial killer named David Allen Griffin, played by Keanu Reeves, who stalks and studies his would be victims, approaching them in seemingly innocent ways before getting to his murderous goal. He is meticulous in his preparation, careful in his observation, and seems to have forensic knowledge allowing him to get closer and kill them without a trace. FBI Agent Joel Campbell, played by James Spader, has been on his tail however and he has been hoping to catch him for so long that he has left the Bureau in a bout of frustration. Griffin teases him back onto his case with photos of his next would-be victim. At first, Campbell turns over the evidence to avoid getting involved, but as things evolve, he must get back onto the case and close it himself. The story is a bit generic when it comes to these types of films, one we’ve seen a bunch and one that has even shown up on cop procedurals and other law television shows. It’s something that could easily been really bland, but in this case, there is a mood to it that helps it work. However, this mood as well as the performances were not enough to make this film a big hit.

The Watcher WTF Happened to This Horror Movie

The film itself is not terrible. Well, it’s not terribly original either, but it’s also not a bad film. Yeah, it’s generic and it’s a bit on the predictable side, but it has a few really good sequences, and the cast is doing their best with the material at hand. The film is well-shot and edited, giving it a look that fits with the era and one that works for its story. It looks like a quality serial killer film. But something is off. Actually, multiple somethings are off. The film lacks what thrillers of the era all had and needed, some thrills. It’s somewhat of a horror film, but it’s not horror-centric enough. It’s somewhat of a thriller, but it’s not thrilling enough. It’s a suspense film, but it’s not suspenseful enough. You get the idea. The film is something, but not enough. Anything it is, is on the bland side of that element. Yes, it’s a talented cast, but they are not at their best and the history of the film may explain some of it. The reviewer consensus at Rotten Tomatoes gives it an 11% fresh, or a rotten rating, and the public consensus gives it a 28%, so a little bit better.

The cast here is led by James Spader and Keanu Reeves with Marisa Tomei and Ernie Hudson amongst the rest of the cast. It’s got a solid core of actors who usually give solid performances. Keanu Reeves was fresh off of The Matrix in 1999 and it was a huge hit, making him an even bigger star than he already was with Speed and Point Break under his belt. The man could do no wrong it seemed. It still seems this way, so seeing this film be this generic with him at the center and not exactly make money seems like a head-scratcher in the era of his John Wick success. Looking back, it’s a wonder that one of his films, especially released so close to The Matrix, was not a huge box office hit and something folks remember.

Looking at the history of this film’s pre-production might help shed some light on the film. To start, director Joe Charbanic had only even directed a single music video before this, the video for 311’s “Do You Right”. A fine music video for 1993. Wait, 1993? Yep, the man had directed a single music video 7 years before this film and it was seemingly enough to get him this film. He had also produced three other music videos but his career didn’t exactly make anyone think he’d get a feature film as a director next, especially not one with such a budget and a cast. Looking back, it seems like a miracle or some sort of lucky happenstance. Or perhaps the man was talented and connected. Or something else magic in Hollywood.

In fact, Charbanic already knew Keanu Reeves from having filmed him on tour with his band Dogstar. So connections definitely had something to do with this film happening. From what can be found online, Reeves has made a verbal agreement to make the film with Charbanic after reading the script. This allowed Charbanic to get a bigger budget and a better-known cast. Then changes were made to the script, Reeves’ smaller part became a central part of the film and whether he liked it or not, he was stuck in the role. This is where things get iffy from the data found online. Reeves was not interested in the new script from what can be read, but he was stuck as his assistant had allegedly forged his signature to get him to do the film. Being a peaceful man, Reeves agreed to perform in the film instead of taking the case to court, something that could have been costly and taken a long time, causing other issues in his career which was definitely on the up and up at that point. Thus, Reeves agreed and did the film, paid on scale while his costars made much more than him, reportedly about $1 million each. The production put it into his contract that Reeves was not to badmouth the film for at least a year after its release, something he kept too while avoiding doing any of the press before the release. A year later, he spoke about his signature being forged and being obligated to do the film. As it was, Universal, as the distributor, asked the financiers to give Reeves a part of the profits which boosted his pay day from scale to at least $2 million extra as the film was an ok hit.

Adding to the appeal of Reeves, the film has James Spader who was fresh off Supernova and had recently been in Cronenberg’s Crash as well as Stargate. The man had, and still has, some box office appeal. It may have been lesser than in the 1980s, but he was still a draw. Playing alongside Spader and Reeves here is Marisa Tomei who was an Academy Award winner for My Cousin Vinny and who had a bunch of great roles already on her resume. She was someone folks wanted to see more of and still do to this day, so she was a great choice to put with the two male leads. She held her own and did what she could here, very much like both Keanu Reeves and James Spader. The cast of The Watcher had some box office appeal, especially third-billed Reeves, so a bigger hit should have happened.

The Watcher WTF Happened to This Horror Movie

The Watcher was released on September 7, 2000, and stars a few mildly familiar faces, you know, like Keanu Reeves, James Spader, and Marisa Tomei, so one would have expected this film to be a huge hit and being better remembered now than it is by the general population. Yet, it’s not. So, what happened?

If we look at numbers, we can see that the film cost $35 million USD and made just over $47 million USD at the box office, so that would put it in the mildly successful range and make it a perfect rental for a Friday or Saturday night for those who had missed it. The film’s opening weekend showed promise with a total of $9,062,295 USD over 3 days in 2,742 theaters. It was looking good, but it faced fierce competition including another Keanu Reeves film in another late 1990s-early 2000s popular sub-genre, the football film The Replacements. In terms of numbers at the box office, The Watcher didn’t even touch the top 10 that weekend which was populated by Bring It On, Space Cowboys, What Lies Beneath, Highlander: Endgame, The Original Kings of Comedy, Reeves’ other movie The Replacements, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Hollow Man, the Gone in 60 Seconds remake, and the first X-Men movie. It was a solid weekend at the box office in terms of competition, so a smaller film with a smaller marketing budget didn’t have much of a chance to beat the bigger guys. Also, that was just the top 10. Gladiator, Big Momma’s House, and Road Trip were still in theaters. People had way too many options and a lot of them were massive hits which not only split the box office but made it practically impossible for anything without a massive marketing push to make it out from behind the bigger budget films.

The film had a lot of hope with the cast it has and the distribution rights battle that happened between Universal, Destination Films, and Warner Bros. There was a lot of interest before the film was released. Then it was released and made just enough to not be a complete flop. Universal won the distribution deal at $5 million USD, something that seems on the lower end to be honest, but not unheard of.

Overall, it looks like the production and the studio made their money back, but just barely, something that means the film was not a flop, but also not a massive hit. It’s usually described as a moderate hit even though it made just a little over its cost at the box office and it made a bit more on the home video front which was still in the days of the video store in the early 2000s. Folks in general seem to have forgotten the film with some rediscovering it on streaming platforms where it’s gathering attention now due to Keanu Reeves and his John Wick films being everywhere and so popular. This is also due to Marisa Tomei who has been in the recent Spider-Man films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, something that, like it or not, has an impact on other films such as this one. A lot of those discovering the film now seem to like it better than those who originally saw it in theaters, perhaps a side effect of the genre it’s from being less popular with filmmakers today, leading to the film feeling less generic when taken out of its era and context. This is leading to the film having a bit of a resurgence on those platforms, but it’s not quite enough to make it a cult film or a success after the fact. It’s there, it happened, some of those involved did not enjoy their time on the film or the film itself, so that does lead to some curiosity for some wanting to see it on the bad word of mouth. The film is not bad enough to become a “so bad it’s good” movie. This one, even with the years since its release, has aged just about as it was back in the day, a generic thriller about a serial killer without too much oomph, but just enough to keep the attention throughout. The lead performances aren’t bad, so they have aged ok, but they aren’t exactly award winning, so the leads, with the story and production, lead to a forgettable film with a few sequences worth seeing.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

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