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Watcher (2022) – Review: An Effective Psychological Thriller That Features Another Solid Performance From Maika Monroe

June 2, 2022

Quick Thoughts – Grade – B- – Watcher is an effective thriller that effectively uses the empty streets of Bucharest, Romanica to create a paranoid experience that’s worth a watch. Director Chloe Okuno (V/H/S/1994) is a writer/director to watch because of the way she is able to build tension and create memorable visuals that stick with you.

Watcher tells the story of Julia (Maika Monroe – watch The Guest and It Follows), and Francis (Karl Glusman) an American couple who move to Bucharest when Francis is offered a lucrative promotion that affords him a raise and a spacious apartment with large windows that allow the neighbors in the building across the street to spy on their lives. The open windows don’t worry Francis, who is constantly at work and often on out of town business trips, however, the fishbowl-esque windows begin to create dread for Julia who occasionally sees the shape of a man staring directly into her home. Since it’s a thriller, Julia learns that there is a serial killer on the loose who is killing young women, and since it’s not a particularly original thriller, Francis, her supposed loving husband doesn’t believe a word Julia says (which is a wildly common occurrence in the real world, however here it feels a bit stock) when she becomes paranoid that a man in the next building (played by Burn Gorman) is following her. It would be a shame to spoil the rest, just know that Okuno was influenced by movies like Rear Window, Charade, Lost in Translation, and Rosemary’s Baby, and a lot of that influence is on the screen.

The best parts of Watcher occur when Julia explores the empty streets of Bucharest that feel lonely and dreamlike due to the production being filmed during the pandemic. It’s a sprawling city with a population of 1.8 million, but nobody is around when she’s buying vampire trinkets or wandering through the grocery store. It’s also neat how her wardrobe choices evolve as she initially wears reds and bright colors, but as she becomes more isolated and alone she starts wearing drab colors and turtlenecks that match the walls of her apartment. You really do feel for Julia as her husband’s co-workers deliberately don’t speak English around her, and the isolation of moving to another country isn’t helped by Francis never being around (he’s a very bad movie husband – which is the point). In an interview with Bloody Disgusting, Okuno said that she “ thought the simplicity of it (Watcher) was very intriguing,” and that “There is something particularly upsetting to me about the idea of not being safe in your own home and I liked the challenge of building suspense around this very minimalist story.” Okuno does a fine job of creating an interesting color palette (white, gray, beige, blue – lit by warm lights), and her work with cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen (who also worked on Okuno’s film Slut) pay dividends as they find a way to make Julia’s modern apartment seem like a cell that is slowly closing in on her. The 1.85:1 is inspired as it makes the windows seem larger than life, and according to Okuno, they slowly started centering the frame on Julia as the mysterious watcher really starts watching her (it’s neat).

In the end, Watcher is proof that Okuno is a director to watch and might influence you to check out Maika Monroe in The Guest and It Follows if you haven’t already.

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