Watcher (2022)

Ve must believe vomen

What’s the deal with Maika Monroe getting followed?

Sorry, I had to lead with the obvious joke.

Watcher is a suspenseful and small-scale thriller, directed and co-written by Chloe Okuno in her debut effort. And it is a satisfying and well-constructed film, a very promising career kick off for Okuno. If she goes on to have a productive career, I thoroughly expect completionists to rediscover this and say “You know what was pretty solid? Her first film Watcher.” That’s not the same as saying it’s a great film, and I don’t think it is, but for its modest ambition, it delivers.

Julia (Monroe), and Francis (Karl Glusman) are an American couple relocating to Romania, Francis’s parents’ home country, for a career opportunity for Francis. It’s never quite clear what Julia does professionally (one plot summary I read cites her as an actor; if this is true, it’s a trivial detail). Mostly she sits around their apartment and waits for her boyfriend to get home, like Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation.

Actually, Lost in Translation is not a bad point of comparison, because it illuminates one thing that I think Watcher is missing. We never really get the sense that Julia feels like she’s isolated in an alien world, exactly the mindset that would lead one to become paranoid, which would feed the movie’s themes and premise well.

Julia starts to notice a strange man, cloaked in shadows, constantly peering into her apartment at night. Meanwhile, Romanian headlines are filled with stories of a serial killer nicknamed “The Spider” who has a propensity for decapitating young women. While shopping one day, Julia suspects that she’s being stalked by a man whom she instantly detects as the same one staring at her from the windows. And, hey, The Spider is still on the prowl, so one’s mind will fill in some gaps.

From here the movie slowly and intensely builds along the question of whether Julia is truly in danger or whether she’s imagining her circumstances. Alongside this is the theme of trusting women who say they’re in danger. But it isn’t hammered too hard: Julia‘s boyfriend Francis is at least a little bit understanding and supportive, doing pretty much exactly what I would expect someone to do if their girlfriend said they were being stalked, but there wasn’t any concrete evidence beyond her instinct to back it up. At least that’s how most of the movie plays out. In the film’s, climax, Francis all the sudden becomes an asshole making abduction jokes at the expense of Julia to his coworkers. It seems the film decided it must have a clear moral.

Given the film’s pitch and suspenseful tone, it should be little surprise that there is a physical altercation near the end of the film, and kudos to Okuno and crew: This is a white-knuckle final 15 minutes of film. It takes too long to get there, but it is an excellent payoff.

The film’s look is pretty excellent. I’m especially impressed with the mix of Okuno’s camera movement and the editing to put us in the headspace of Julia, especially when she is most frightened.

The acting is good, too. Monroe carries the film, playing her fear with a blend of terror and humanity. Glusman is also very good as her boyfriend, allowing boyfriend Francis to be skeptical of Julius danger without being smarmy about it. The other major highlight is Burn Gorman (hell of a name) as the alleged stalker, who casts an imposing and creepy figure such that we don’t blame Julia for her instinctive fear.

So, overall, Watcher is an enjoyable hour and a half with a terrific payoff. The whole thing feels a little too surface-level to approach greatness or best-of-the-year status, but if nothing else I’ll be following Okuno’s career to come.

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

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2 replies on “Watcher (2022)”

Watched this last night. Good set-up, good atmosphere, and I was interested to see where it all went. Agreed on the suspense in the climactic moments. But character motivations at various points are pretty questionable, Julia doesn’t have a lot of personality besides ‘nervous/afraid’, and – maybe we diverge here – to me the film sets up a ridiculously non-understanding boyfriend just to hammer home a “believe women!” message that ultimately lands in a pretty unsatisfying way.

It’s interesting that we viewed the boyfriend so differently. I think he’s strawmanish-ly dismissive of her, has seemingly zero protective instincts (it’s telling that she laughs when he brings this up), and also doesn’t have a lot of chemistry/fun with her in general, which makes me wonder why they’re together at all. I mean, it’s not like Maika Monroe would be lacking for suitors, right? Why does she have to settle for this doofus? (Frankly, I think he needed to die about two-thirds of the way through this, but that’s another matter.)

But Okuno has referenced Kieslowski as an inspiration, and that puts anyone in my good book.

I guess my thought was that he helped her go to the grocery store to look at the footage and approached the neighbor when he’d been identified (although that beat was weirdly underdeveloped and dismissed I thought). But I see the point that he could have been a bit more intensely protective and supportive rather than skeptical. Especially with a serial killer on the loose… in the neighborhood!

Since you brought it up, I’ll admit I added a few Monroe films to my watchlist after seeing this…

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