Watcher Review

Last Updated on June 2, 2022

PLOT: A young woman moves into a new apartment with her fiancé and is tormented by the feeling that she is being stalked by an unseen watcher in an adjacent building.

REVIEW: The idea that someone may be watching us is a truly terrifying concept. There is a vulnerability in the fact that potential danger is looming and we don’t see it coming. We have a feeling something just isn’t right but there isn’t much proof in just a feeling. There is a reason that most stalking cases almost require a more physical threat before anything can be done. There needs to be a tangible danger and one’s paranoia isn’t enough to make someone spring into action to help.

With her feature debut, director Chloe Okuno takes the stalker flick, which has been done numerous times and gives it a bit of a shot in the arm. Watcher is less about the violence and more about the act of stalking itself. The film is a slow-burn thriller that is almost simmering for much of its runtime before things boil over in a big way during its finale. If you can stick with it, the journey is quite worth it during this relatively short 96-minute experience.

Watcher is set in present-day Bucharest, a location and setting that adds to the film’s eerie ambiance. Experiencing a sense of isolation and loneliness is Julie (Maika Monroe), who has followed her boyfriend Francis (Karl Glusman) to the city for his new job. Julie doesn’t have much to do in her present life but we learn she was once an actress. Since the move, she doesn’t seem to have any new career plans. She’s stuck in a rut with nothing to do and this makes her mind wander, as is the case when boredom begins to take over. Her attention soon catches a man (Burn Gorman) repeatedly staring at her from a window across the street. Julie is convinced that the man is a stalker and her assertion is all but confirmed when he follows her into a supermarket. Adding to her anxiety is that there’s also a serial killer on the loose that is known for making victims out of young women.

What director Chloe Okuno and writer Zack Ford do with the project is rather interesting. Instead of turning the film into an against-the-clock thriller that is heavy on violence, they play things much more realistic. There is also a bit of ambiguity at play here because we really only see things from Julie’s perspective. Is she REALLY being stalked or is her growing isolation playing tricks on her? Has mere more boredom made her lose her mind?

Another interesting aspect comes with the boyfriend character of Francis. Normally roles like this see them trying to contradict the would be victim and convince her that everything is ok. Francis is more proactive and accommodates her by having the cops intervene which brings Julie face to face with her stalker. This would normally clear the air but we begin to question the validity of Julie’s claims even more. At one point Francis begins to wonder if Julie is coming up with all of this because she has nothing else to do. The film makes it fun for watchers to decide if this is really the case as well.

What Okuno best captures is the feeling of loneliness from being in a very unfamiliar place. Moving away abroad, especially when you don’t fully fit in and can’t communicate with others, is a daunting task. This is made even more stressful if you don’t have an outlet of your own. Julie has uprooted her life to join her boyfriend and has put her dreams on hold. She has nothing else to do but be with her thoughts. When she begins to have a singular focus (realizing she has a stalker) it also becomes an obsession and the only thing that occupies her mind.

It might seem like I’ve given away a lot but there are several surprises in Watcher that I will not spoil here. The film is a captivating look into Julie’s sanity and it builds to a truly jolting finale that is short, terrifying, and delivers on the gore that makes sitting through its slow-burn story worth the wait. The audience earns the ending and it’s definitely one that stays with you long after it’s over. For her part, Maika Monroe carries the film with a truly riveting performance. Some actresses can convey emotions with just a stare and we feel her character’s fear without her having to say much of anything. Most of Watcher works because of her committed performance.

Watcher shows that thrillers can be achieved skillfully without having to showcase grand acts of violence. Watcher is essentially a limited movie with very few settings and each sequence presents a looming sense of dread. They make us watch every single thing that goes on in the film and before we know it, we’re dreadfully waiting for what’s lurking beyond every frame and every corner.

Watcher, maika monroe, movie review, sundance, sundance film festival




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