SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Watcher opens with Julia (Maika Monroe) gazing at the lights of Bucharest from the window of a rain-soaked cab. She rides with her husband, Francis (Karl Glusman), who has been promoted and moved to Romania because he knows the language. Francis carries on with the driver, and even though she does not speak the language, Julia picks up on tone and demeanor, offering a polite smile.
The two arrive at their new flat, exhausted and smelling of travel. Things seem normal until, after just a few days, Julia notices a blurry silhouette lingering in a window opposite her building. Is it all in her mind? Writers Zack Ford and Chloe Okuno heighten the paranoia of being an outsider with the threats women face daily, concocting a thriller that is both stylish and entertaining.
The talent behind the camera (Okuno also directed) is evident from frame one. No, Watcher never reaches the heights of its Hitchcockian aspirations, but there is some excellent work here. Julia’s paranoia is hardly unfounded, but we’re given just enough to doubt her perceptions. As she gazes from her large windows that expose the living room, it is clear Julia is being watched. Later her husband dismisses her worries and even laughs them off, reminding her that she has a strong male to protect her (gag!).
“…after just a few days, Julia notices a blurry silhouette lingering in a window opposite her building.”
Then there is the subplot of a killer on the loose known as “The Spider” who murders women. A kaleidoscope of circumstances and interpretations leads to a few wonderfully tense scenes. One in a theater where Julia senses someone in the row behind her. Is there a person there, or is it another manifestation of slipping away from reality? There’s another scene in a grocery store where a figure, just out of focus, seems to be following her from aisle to aisle. As I said, there are some fun set pieces, and Okuno is doing the Master of Suspense proud, but the horror film never seems to hit the bullseye.
Monroe does her usual but shows a nice bit of range this go around. Throughout Watcher, we see a more mature, fully capable person navigating a foreign place, begging to be heard. Glusman bounces between supportive husband and sycophantic businessman well but is never given a moment that validates his point of view. Still, I enjoyed the ride enough to stick with it to the end and savor the talents on display.
Craft-wise, everything is top shelf. Benjamin Kirk Nielsen’s cinematography stays in the cyan family with hints of yellow and a tight focus when needed. Yet the stars of this show are the emerging talents of writer Ford and writer-director Okuno. The pacing could use refinement, perhaps some punctuation, but this is a thrilling watch. In particular, the scene on the subway proves most intense — very nice work.
Did I love Watcher? No. Did I enjoy it? Yes. This classically styled thriller plays on universal themes of alienation to deliver a punchy diversion with macabre tints and a love of the genre.
"…a punchy diversion with macabre tints and a love of the genre."