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Watcher review
A woman fears her possibly voyeuristic neighbour may be a serial killer.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Chloe Okuna

Starring: Maika Monroe, Burn Gorman, Karl Glusman, Madalina Anea

watcher poster

Having starred in the modern horror classic It Follows, Maika Monroe knows a thing or two about playing a stalking victim. She's being stalked once again in director Chloe Okuna's Watcher. Or is she? Okuna structures her film in a manner that makes us second guess her heroine, only to ultimately scold us for ever doubting her.

watcher review

Monroe plays Julia, a former actress who has moved with her half-Romanian husband Francis (Karl Glusman) to Bucharest, where he has landed a job at the local office of some faceless American corporation. On the night the couple moves into their spacious apartment, Julia spots a figure standing in the dimly lit window of an apartment across the street. Is he staring at her or just at the world outside his window? Julia seems convinced it's the former but pulls the curtain and forgets the matter.

When the beheaded victim of a serial killer dubbed "The Spider" is discovered not too far from her new apartment, Julia begins to grow increasingly uneasy about the potential voyeur living across the street. She flees a repertory cinema when a man, who may or may not be her would-be stalker, sits behind her. Did the man purposely choose this seat or is assigned seating in place? (As a man, I always feel uncomfortable when a cinema's assigned seating puts me right behind a woman on her own in a half empty auditorium). In a local supermarket she spots a man (Burn Gorman) who appears to be looking at her, or maybe he's simply returning her own suspicious gaze. Later she follows the man to his janitorial job in a basement strip club, becoming something of a stalker herself.

watcher review

Initially Watcher appears to be an Eyes Wide Shut style examination of Anglo-Saxon frigidity, paranoia and fear of the other. Unable to speak Romanian, Julia gets mildly angry whenever her husband speaks with the locals in their own tongue. This might be read as Okuna critiquing the very Anglo-Saxon attitude of expecting the rest of the world to cater to our needs, something compounded by the fact that none of the Romanian dialogue is subtitled. I wonder how the film plays for those who can understand that language and know exactly what is being said between Francis and the natives. Are they actually mocking Julia, as she fears, or simply engaging in everyday work gossip, as Francis claims?

As the film progresses it becomes less clear whether Okuna is really examining America's self-centred place in the world, as her movie evolves into a more run of the mill stalking thriller. The message loudly becomes "believe women," and we feel guilty for not fully committing to Julia's side of the story. But Okuna designs her film's first half in a way that purposely makes us question her heroine's account of things, so it's highly deceitful for her to then scold us for simply ingesting the visual evidence we've been presented with. Horror films always have the Francis figure, the husband/boyfriend who doesn't believe the heroine, but they also make it very clear to the audience that the heroine isn't going mad by showing us the fear she's experiencing. Okuna mostly has her heroine tell us she's in danger, which just isn't how cinematic storytelling works.

watcher review

Perhaps the film would play differently if I were an American and immediately took Julia's side. But I'm a European, and we do look out our windows and we do wave back if we see someone waving at us. Julia is part of a generation of Americans that have been raised to see strangers as potential threats rather than possible friends. I hope Europe never becomes that paranoid.

 is on UK/ROI VOD now.