Film Review: Watcher
Director: Chloe Okuno
Spooky Studios and AGC Studios
In Theaters 06.03
Last year’s The Woman in the Window was the latest blatant example of a movie everyone compared to Rear Window, and rarely in a good way. While I found it by far to be the better of director Joe Wright‘s two films in 2021, it was undeniably a by-the-numbers imitation. This fact makes the new psychological thriller Watcher all the more welcome as a truly clever twist on the Alfred Hitchcock classic.
Watcher follows a young American woman named Julia (Maika Monroe, It Follows, Independence Day: Resurgence) who moves to Bucharest when her boyfriend, Francis (Karl Glusman, Nocturnal Animals), and is offered a lucrative job. Unlike Francis, Julia doesn’t speak the native language, and her feeling of being an outsider soon gives way to one of severe isolation. There are worse things than being alone, however: After the revelation that there’s a serial killer in the city, Julia becomes convinced that she’s being watched and even followed by a man (Burn Gorman, Pacific Rim) in the apartment building across the way. Francis thinks Julia’s being paranoid, and Julia really doesn’t have anyone else in Bucharest to talk to about it. The feeling is impossible to shake, and Julia becomes increasingly obsessed and unnerved, determined to either ease her mind or prove that she’s not losing it.
Director Chloe Okuno, who previously directed a segment in the anthology film V/H/S/94, deserves serious recognition for evoking Hitchcock without imitating him. Where movies such as Woman in the Window and Run impress with their ability to mimic the stylistic choices of the master of suspense, Okuno favors a quieter approach, creating a lonely atmosphere that relies more on nailing the feeling of isolation and keeping the musical score to a bare minimum. Monroe makes a terrific Hitchcock blonde, giving a nuanced and beautifully subtle performance that is based more on facial expressiveness and body language than theatrical, “Why won’t anyone believe me?” monologues. Glusman does solid work as Francis, alternately coming across as insensitive and simply sensible.
Perhaps the most welcome element of Watcher is the subtle feminist message about believing women and truly listening to their stories, an issue that couldn’t be more topical, especially in the wake of the disturbing celebration of certain civil trial verdicts that will remain nameless (and shameless). That’s not to say that Watcher is another Promising Young Woman—this one leaves the commentary as a subtext where Emerald Fennel‘s groundbreaking masterpiece wore its agenda on its sleeve—but Watcher makes for a far superior treatment of the subject than the ham fisted campiness of The Invisible Man. That’s not to say that Watcher isn’t another formula genre film, but it is to say that if it’s done well enough and with a sense of inspiration, “genre film” doesn’t have to be a strike against it. Okuno proves to be gifted in the art of subtlety; she’s a director with a bright future ahead of her.
Watcher is a thoroughly satisfying suspense movie that proves that a film doesn’t have to take an in-your-face approach to get inside your head. It’s a smart and well-crafted film that effectively demonstrates that skill and inspiration are still at least as important as a multi-million dollar megabudget when it comes to delivering a thrilling summer movie. –Patrick Gibbs