“Watcher” is a modest but effective psychological thriller film driven by one little insidious possibility. Although you will not be surprised much by what it will serve you along the plot, the movie did a fairly competent job of maintaining the sense of dread and anxiety till the expected climactic part, and I was entertained enough by that even though I could easily guess where the story is heading along with its terrified heroine.
The opening scene quickly establishes the circumstance surrounding a young married woman named Julia (Maika Monroe), who moves to Bucharest, Romania along with her Romanian American husband Francis (Karl Glusman) due to his company work. Although she cannot speak Romanian that much, she tries to adjust herself to this foreign environment as much as she can during her first several days in Bucharest, and she is also glad to live in a nice and cozy apartment along with her husband.
As her husband is often busy due to his work, Julia finds herself usually spending time in their apartment alone by herself. While she keeps trying to learn Romanian more, she is still a foreign woman frequently isolated by the language barrier, and the only consolation besides her husband comes from Irina (Madalina Anea), a young single woman who happens to be living right next to Julia and Francis’ apartment. Although their first encounter is not exactly pleasant, Irina later invites Julia to her residence, and Julia feels a little more relaxed than before thanks to Irina’s sincere hospitality.
However, Julia still cannot help but unnerved by something which has disturbed and annoyed her since her first day. Whenever she looks outside the big front window of the apartment after daytime, she feels like being watched by somebody out there, and this uneasy feeling seems to come from a mysterious figure living in the other apartment building facing hers. This figure simply stays still and quiet as looking outside, but Julia becomes more aware of this figure’s presence day by day, and her anxiety is all the more increased when she seems to be followed by this figure outside their neighborhood at one point.
Of course, Julia’s husband tries to be reasonable while calming her down as much as possible, but she only finds herself thrown into more anxiety and paranoia due to a certain dark possibility. Not long after she and her husband moved into the apartment building, one of the tenants, who happened to a young woman, was brutally murdered, and it looks like this terrible incident is connected with a certain local serious killer who has not been arrested yet. Is it possible that the figure supposedly stalking her is actually that serious killer in question? If so, is she actually the next target to be killed?
While the screenplay director/writer Chloe Okuno, which is developed from the story by co-producer Zack Ford, toys with these scary possibilities, the movie rolls out one creepy moment after another for increasing the level of tension around its heroine. In case of one suspenseful sequence unfolded outside the apartment building, we come to brace ourselves more and more as our heroine comes closer to possible dangers, and then there comes an unexpected moment of relief to our little amusement.
In addition, Okuno and her crew members including cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen gradually convey to us Julia’s increasingly isolated status whenever she is in her apartment, which looks quite open on the surface but then comes to feel more suffocating as she is more unnerved along the story. As watching her thrown into more panic and dread alone, you may be reminded of Roman Polanski’s several notable thriller films including “Repulsion” (1965) and many other thriller films influenced by them.
Although it becomes less engaging during the third act where everything is revealed and explained as expected, the movie still makes us care about what may happen in the end, and Maika Monroe, who is no stranger to being stalked and terrorized because of her breakthrough turn in David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows” (2014), ably carries the film to the end. Besides conveying well her character’s accumulating fear and desperation to us, Monroe also fills her archetype character with enough presence and personality to hold our attention, and that is the main reason why the finale works despite some plot contrivance.
In case of the three main cast members surrounding Monroe, they are adequately cast in their respective functional roles. While Karl Glusman and Madalina Anea provide some necessary relief as required, Burn Gorman, who looks much more subdued here compared to his exaggerated comic supporting turn in Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” (2013), exudes an ominous vibe right from his first appearance in the film, and you can easily discern why Monroe’s character is so disturbed by his character.
On the whole, “Watcher” is a solid genre piece which plays well in its familiar genre territory, and Okuno, who previously participated in horror anthology film “V/H/S 94” (2021), made a satisfying feature film debut here. As far as I can see from the overall result, she is a good filmmaker who knows how to handle genre elements well for our thrill and excitement, and it will be interesting to see whether she can scare and entertain us more in the future.