Watcher is part of our Overlook Film Festival coverage and is available to stream now on Shudder.
According to the New York State Attorney General, 1 in 12 women will be bullied in her lifetime. Which is to say, it makes sense that bullying would be a bit of a theme at the Overlook Film Festival. Both Jethica and Shudder’s Watcher starred in the truncated 4-day festival film lineup. Although the former introduces a spectral element, Chloe Okuno’s Watcher is grounded in a harsh, cold reality.
Maika Monroe plays Julia, an American who followed her husband to Bucharest, Romania. She doesn’t speak the language, she has no friends, but she Is having a neighbor who can’t get her out of his mind. Reports of a serial killer named The Spider heighten tensions as Julia desperately tries to trick anyone into thinking there’s someone following her every move.
Okuno builds tension with an efficiency that makes it almost hard to believe Watcher is his feature debut. (V/H/S/94 fans, you know her from the Raatma meme-able segment. Hail Raatma!) Persistent camerawork, a slow, building narrative, and the decision to keep the stalker faceless for much of the film’s runtime all work together to create seething suspense.
We can’t say enough about what Monroe brings to the lead role. There’s a determination in Julia that will make Watcher’s slow-burn narrative more palatable to audiences who typically shy away from that kind of story pacing. As tensions rise, we see Julia experience a range of believable human responses to what is unfolding around her. Isolation; the euphoria of finding a special friend in a sea of people you don’t know; and the whole range of emotions one goes through while being gaslit creates something haunting to tell in Julia’s story.
On the other side of that coin is Burn Gorman, introduced only as “Watcher” in the film’s credits. While you’ll have to watch the movie (it’s available on Shudder) to find out if he’s a red herring or the real culprit behind Julia’s nightmare, Gorman brings a quiet creepiness to his character.
The film’s story plays an important and interesting turn with Gorman’s character. In stalker stories, the scripts are often prone to portray their “watchers” as creepy critters bumping into each other in the night. But there’s a humanity to the Observer that adds to the suspension of disbelief and makes the story more real. Is Julia gassed by everyone around her – including her stalker – or has she truly lost her mind in her new isolation? These questions always seem to have such an obvious outcome in stories like these, but several scenes go out of their way to make you wonder what’s really happens in Bucharest.
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