Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: Watcher

Film: Watcher
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

Horror movies have a tendency to go after current fears. This is not a surprise, of course. If the movie is supposed to be scary, it makes sense to go with a common fear or something that taps into the zeitgeist. Home invasion movies are popular because that’s a common fear. Another common fear and common base plot is women being pursued in some voyeuristic fashion. Invasion of privacy, particularly this kind of personal invasion of privacy is a fear of most people, an intense fear for many women, and so it makes its way into plenty of horror movies as the base of the plot. It won’t be surprising that this is central to the film Watcher. After all, it’s kind of in the name.

I never thought that in addressing a stalker movie produced by a streaming service that I would be making a connection to one of the classic movies of the late 1940s, but there’s a huge connection to The Third Man, and it’s an awfully good one. In The Third Man, we as the audience follow Holly Martins around in Austria, and the speech of the natives is never translated for us or given subtitles. For anyone who doesn’t speak German, a huge percentage of the dialogue is simple not accessible. This throws us off-balance and makes it harder for us to feel assured of what is happening. Watcher takes place in Romania, and our main character Julia (Maika Monroe) has only a rudimentary understanding of the language. She’s alone for much of the day in a place where she doesn’t understand the bulk of what is happening around her, which leaves her isolated and vulnerable. It’s really effective.

So, Julia has moved to Romania with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) for his new job. Since Julie does not speak Romanian, she’s not employed, but spends her time going around the city, listening to language lessons and trying to pick things up, and sitting in their apartment. This idea of a woman essentially on her own in an unknown or possibly hostile environment is not a new one. On the benign end, you get something like Lost in Translation. On the social class end, you get something like Swallow. For horror, though, this is not a difficult story to tell, and it’s one that is pretty easy to tell well. Julia is in a vulnerable position—she doesn’t know the customs and is going to communicate at a disadvantage with everyone else, and so if anyone is actually stalking her, it’s going to be difficult to tell someone else or to prove.

So, we need to ramp up that tension as much as we can. Our stalker in this case is someone who lives across a courtyard from Julia and Francis. He appears essentially as a shadowy shape in a window across the way, but for Julia, it becomes clear that he is watching her. In fact, wanting to confirm this, one day she waves at him, and he waves back. Julia attempts to get the police involved and eventually, her attempting to figure out if the shadowy figure is pursuing her results in him calling the police on her. It’s also when we get to put a name and face to the shadow. His name is Daniel Weber and he looks exactly like Burn Gorman.

The other important point going on here is Julia’s neighbor, Irina (Madalina Anea). Irina works as an exotic dancer at a nearby club, which happens to be the place that Daniel Weber works as a janitor. And then, Irina goes missing, raising Julia’s fears about Daniel and his possible connection to an active serial killer in the area who is called “The Spider” by the local press.

Watcher does a few things very well. The first is what I’ve already mentioned above. This is a film that really wants to be unsettling and manages to give us some of that. It would be nice, honestly, if it went harder on the idea of being unsettling. The moment our supposed stalker waves back is a good one, but it takes us a long time to get there. I like a good slow burn, but there are limits, and Watcher stretches them. It does well at isolating Julia as much as possible, but in going for a general sense of dread, it moves too slowly to get to the real scares.

It also takes far too long to put a name and face to the watcher. We don’t actually encounter the watcher and see him clearly or hear his name until well into the film. The vague unease works, but again, the film sits here far too long. Unease is effective and this is done well, but it moves so slowly to become more intense that it’s easy to be lulled into a little boredom.

I like Watcher and it’s a solid feature-length debut from director Chloe Okuno and shows a lot of promise, but that’s really all it shows.

Why to watch Watcher: Because Burn Gorman needs more attention.
Why not to watch: It’s such a slow burn that sometimes it’s a stop.


  1. Burn Gorman does need more attention. At least he's appreciated by Guillermo del Toro. I hope to watch this soon mainly because I like Maika Monroe.

    1. Burn Gorman has serious range. Played a huge nerd in Pacific Rim, played a bad-ass assassin in Game of Thrones.