Chloe Okuno’s “Watcher” stars Maika Monroe as Julia, an American living with her boyfriend in Romania.
While he’s at work, she looks out her window and notices the silhouette of a man watching her from the building across from hers. At first it seems an odd coincidence, except the figure is always there, seemingly never leaving his vantage point.
Plus – a serial killer is reportedly running loose.
“Watcher” is effective but also begs the feature-length question, where is this going? Will the big reveal and payoff at the end be worth our time?
The answer is mostly yes, though the film is composed of spare parts. There’s a lot of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954) and Roman Polanski’s “The Tenant” (1976) in this. Heck, even “Every Breath You Take” by The Police seems to have influenced this at least a little.
The title itself is too easy and downright lazy, as it brings to mind the C-grade Dean Koontz adaptation “Watchers” (1988) and the Keanu Reeves serial killer police procedural “The Watcher” (2000).
Okuno has fashioned a beautiful looking film, with exquisite location shooting and compositions. However, the suspense is fairly mild, as it’s never hard to see where this is going. It reminded me of so many other films. At least it isn’t akin to D.J. Caruso’s “Disturbia” (2007), but it isn’t that much better, either.
The recent, failed Amy Adams thriller “The Woman in the Window” (2021) also covered some of this material and, after an oft-delayed release, was dumped on Netflix. “Watcher” deserves far better exposure, though it is only just jolting enough to merit an eventual streaming premiere on Shudder.
Monroe has a strong presence but gives a performance that is too dialed down, considering what her character experiences. Monroe is a standout in David Robert Mitchell’s essential rethink of teen slasher movies, “It Follows” (2014). Here, she’s much less commanding.
I’m unsure if she didn’t fully connect with the screenplay or wasn’t up to the emotional demands of the role. Either way, she’s been better elsewhere.
Even the casting of Burn Gorman as a creepy suspect feels overly familiar, as the actor bears a resemblance to Brad Greenquist, who was memorable playing the killer in the Hitchcockian sleeper “The Bedroom Window” (1987).
The third act kicks the whole thing into motion, with a subway encounter and a shock reveal in an empty apartment burning images that have stayed with me. The wrap up is satisfying, too, but there’s nothing here that Hitchcock and Polanski didn’t do first and in far scarier fashion.
“Rear Window” understood that cinema itself is voyeurism, and that the protagonists of Hitchcock’s film like to watch as much as we do. The queasiness of that film could be shared with its audience – we’re all peeping toms and can’t look away.
With “The Tenant,” the fear that someone on the other side of the wall may be truly disturbed is just the start of the nightmare, as that film explored how its protagonist and antagonist were the same person, as isolation and paranoia can turn us into monsters.
There are slivers of these ideas of “Watcher” but not nearly enough. Too much of it goes through the checklist of thriller plot expectations, though at least it finally does deliver during its last stretch.
“Watcher” provides a diverting tale in a beautifully wrapped presentation but, while Okuno and Moore have more great work ahead of them, I doubt even the most forgiving audiences will even remember seeing “Watcher” a month from now.
Two and a Half Stars