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The Watchers

By Jordan Bond | June 10, 2024

NOW IN THEATERS! When I was young, seeing M. Night Shyamalan’s name on a movie poster filled me with excitement because I knew it would be 2 hours spent on the edge of my seat. In the last decade or so, my overly optimistic expectations for Shyamalan has wavered. But with The Watchers, a new name, Ishana Night Shyamalan, daughter of M. Night, has tossed her hat into the filmmaking ring. This horror-fantasy mystery marks her directing and writing debut, based on a novel by A.M. Shine.

Mina (Dakota Fanning) is a young woman working at a pet shop in Ireland. The owner assigns her to deliver a unique bird to the woods near Belfast. Upon reaching the forest’s edge, Mina’s car breaks down, forcing her to set out on foot with birdcage in hand. With the sun quickly setting and no clear direction in the darkening forest, the ground trembles, a flock of angry birds flies overhead, and night creeps over the forest. In a frightened state, Mina crosses paths with another woman who ushers her into a structure secured by a metal door.

Once inside, Mina is greeted by Madeline (Olwen Fourere), Ciara (Georgina Campbell), and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan), who are also lost in the forest and have taken refuge in “The Coop.” The others explain that this structure is where they seek shelter after the sun sets every day. While inside, creatures of the night, the titular “Watchers,” come and gaze upon them through a one-way mirrored wall. Little else is known about these entities other than their avoidance of the sun, fascination with observing their prisoners, and the huge burrows in the forest floor where they retreat each morning. Who are these creatures, what do they want, and will Mina and the others ever escape?

“…creatures of the night, the titular ‘Watchers,’ come and gaze upon them through a one-way mirrored wall.”

The Watchers starts out as a creature feature, with the gang carefully following a set of rules to stay on the good side of “The Watchers.” The tension is tight, the mystery is intriguing, and the creatures are frightening. The cinematography is sharp with clever visual imagery, particularly of birds and their wings. The forest backdrop is lush and creepy, while the mirrored wall provides striking imagery.

The latter half strays away from horror and leans hard into fantasy. The movie describes the origins of the creatures and why they do what they do. This is where the story started to lose me. Some plotholes aside, it all makes sense but feels a bit silly by the end. It builds up to a surprise twist ending that isn’t as compelling as I had hoped it would be when it finally arrives. Much like her father’s films, Ishana Night Shyamalan’s debut immensely relies on subverting audience expectations. The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and The Village mastered the surprise twist ending, leaving audiences picking their jaws up off the floor. In recent years, that technique has become increasingly more challenging for Shyamalan, or anyone else, to replicate.

That brings us to the elephant in the room: How is Ishana Night Shyamalan as a director? Honestly, that’s hard to know. If you had not told me that M. Night’s daughter was the writer/director of The Watchers, I would have totally assumed he was the director. This carries the look, tone, and structure of an M. Night picture. Considering he’s the producer, it’s clear that she was working closely under her father’s wing. Let’s hope Night Shyamalan spreads her wings and stands on her own in future projects.

Ultimately, I liked the concept of The Watchers more than the final product. The movie is a mixed bag for me, with Fanning having matured as a leading lady, bringing depth to the lead character. The rest of the cast helps hold up a script that doesn’t deliver a strong final punch. Even though it doesn’t stick to the landing, this is a fun watch with some cool ideas.

The Watchers (2024)

Directed and Written: Ishana Night Shyamalan

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Georgina Campbell, Olwen Fourere, Oliver Finnegan, etc.

Movie score: 6.5/10

The Watchers Image

"…the tension is tight, the mystery is intriguing, and the creatures are frightening."

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