Watcher

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Watcher stars Maika Monroe as a woman who’s arrived in Bucharest with her husband (Karl Glusman) and who is soon convinced that the guy living in the depressing Communist-era block opposite is watching her from his window, behind a filthy net curtain.

There’s also a killer on the loose, one who preys on young women and who likes to cut off their heads. It’s making Julia (Monroe) anxious, and her anxiety is amplified by the fact that she can’t speak the lingo – though she’s trying – and her husband isn’t being quite the rock she’d hoped. He’s out at work all day, leaving her to stew. And when she starts voices her concerns to him, he goes a bit gaslighty on her.

Who casts Maika Monroe in a horror film, knowing full well that they’re inviting comparisons with It Follows, one of the definitive horror films of recent years? The mechanics of the film biz are often opaque, but it’s Chloe Okuno, in her directorial feature debut, who’s wound up with Monroe in her film, and Okuno makes the most of Monroe, who returns the compliment in a film that, this time, is really all about the character she’s playing rather than nameless things in slow but relentless pursuit.

At one point Julia, fearing she’s being followed, ducks into a cinema, where Charade is showing. People with good memories (or access to the trivia page of the IMDb) will recall Monroe’s character in It Follows also saw Charade in a cinema. Okuno is telling us – “I know. And now you know that I know. Bring it on.” The faint visual echoes of Rear Window reinforce the idea.

Films about women under threat, be it real or imaginary, are plentiful, but this familiar material is well handled. The unusual Bucharest setting helps, and Okuno knows how to stir the pot. Early on Julia buys her husband a little joke toy of Dracula, as if to remind us rather than him that Romania is home to many a vampire myth – Transylvania is one of its regions.

Julia looking out of her window
Is there someone out there?


Is the guy behind the dirty curtain a vampire? Though the answer is (probably) no, Okuno’s skill is suggesting it as a possibility. It’s a zesty addition to a mix otherwise made up of bleak Bucharest locations (the underground system is particularly evocative), shadowy lighting, a heightened soundscape and a score that’s midway between ambient tunefulness and sonic atmospherics.

Okuno can do moody psychological horror, in other words, and Monroe – her face often large on the screen – knows how to calibrate increasing uneasiness, which is handy because that’s essentially what most of the film consists of… Julia’s growing anxiety as she becomes convinced the voyeuristic Watcher (if that’s who it is) is not just confining himself to his apartment.

It’s uncertain how much of the screenplay is Zack Ford’s original one, which set the action in Brooklyn, and whether Okuno’s reworking of it did anything more than switch the locations from the US to Romania. Either way there are two sudden jolts in it, key transitions when Julia goes from nervous to panicky and then again when things shift from the threatening (though possibly imagined) to the bloodily overt. Both seem rushed.

Snaking like a threat throughout is a muted conversation about women in horror films and how they’re so often at the mercy of men. Repeatedly Julia turns to her husband for help. And repeatedly he lets her down, either by his inertia or by belittling her. Forcing her to take charge of her life. Parse this as a feminist, post-feminist or just entirely sexist movie in your post-match analysis, but whichever way you see it, the film’s final shot is gloriously unambiguous and might give you the film’s only real laugh. A hollow one but a laugh all the same.



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