Are cinema audiences prescient voyeurs looking into the fantastical lives of fictional characters through the prism of a movie screen? That’s the question that Chloe Okuno’s first feature length film “Watcher” attempts to address. What lengths the audience should go through to identify with a protagonist is another quandary hypothesized.
“Watcher” is a slow burn film that doesn’t necessarily burn at all as the run-time is filled with nonsensical contradictions of character and plot. Watching “Watcher” is more of a chore than entertainment as you’ll find yourself looking at your watch more than the screen.
The film is about an American named Julia, portrayed by Maika Monroe, who moves to Romania with her boyfriend Francis so that he can receive a promotion at work. She’s a fish out of water and has trouble adapting to her new surroundings due to the language barrier, which causes her isolation.
She begins to notice the uneasy feeling that someone is constantly watching her through the large window of her apartment while the idea of closing the blinds never crosses her mind until after she notices she’s being watched. Her fears are exacerbated when she learns of a serial killer decapitating local women while walking home one night with Francis. She begins to suspect that it may be this mysterious man who watches her incessantly through her constantly open window.
The film then begins its lumbering pace with this setup finally introduced. We don’t even learn what Julia and Francis are doing in Romania until an hour into the story.
The primary problem with “Watcher” is how Okuno portrays her victim-in-waiting. Julia is often the one who is seen stalking the man she believes to be the one in the window. The man in the window doesn’t really do anything that could be construed as dangerous other than the creepy act of watching her, which of course is the point the film is making.
A woman’s intuition is seen as something of a gospel and believing women when they express their concerns or fears is of the utmost importance in real life. The problem is that in this fictional world, her fears are completely unfounded by everything that is seen in the film except for her intuition. We are supposed to identify a failing in the men in her life due to their lack of confidence in her concerns but this message is only deduced through the actions of the writer, not the characters in the story. Without spoiling the plot, it’s similar to how a writer can simply state through the story that a character is intelligent without ever actually showing how intelligent they are.
Julia’s fears are substantiated, not because of what we see on screen but more because of what eventually happens due to where the writer takes the story. The men in her life aren’t uncaring or disbelieving; they just simply have to take the facts of the matter at face value.
The unbearable slow pace of the film doesn’t help matters either. Rather than tense, suspenseful and cringe-inducing moments of this aforementioned watcher acting predatorily, we see Julia instigate most of the conflict while the man in the window is just trying to go about his day. This leads to the pace of the film feeling like we are repeating moments of dull interactions rather than witnessing chilling sequences.
Things aren’t helped by the fact that much of the language is spoken in Romanian without subtitles. This was likely done to help put the audience into Julia’s shoes as an isolated foreigner but it leads to long stretches of the film being devoid of any intelligible dialogue unless you’re fluent in Romanian.
The actor who plays Francis, Karl Glusman, gives a dry performance that also breaks tension with his bland delivery. Overall, “Watcher” is a film that suffers from omnipotent writers forcing their admirable message through an ending that doesn’t feel earned, especially when you have to sit through the slowly paced and poorly acted story that presents this commendable subject.
— “Watcher” is rated R and is showing at Marquee Cinemas, Galleria 14, in Beckley.