Review: In ‘Watcher’, ‘Rear Window’ meets #MeToo | Film critic
Movies like “It Follows” and “The Guest” have already made Maika Monroe something of a modern scream queen with a feminist bent. But the psychological acumen and compelling vulnerability that Monroe brings to Chloe Okuno’s lean, sleek thriller “Watcher” suggests her presence as a coming-of-age movie star goes far beyond any particular genre.
“Watcher,” which IFC Films opens in theaters Friday and makes available for digital rental June 21, is a classic type of film editing done with enough texture, suspense, and contemporary commentary to do more than the sum of its tropes.
Julia (Monroe) and her husband, Francis (Karl Glusman), have moved to Bucharest. It was his job in marketing that brought them in, and being half-Romanian, Francis is immediately much more comfortable than Julia. With little to do, she gazes out the large window of their beautiful apartment at the wall of windows covering the drab building opposite. In one, a dark figure stares at her.
As the days pass, her figure – blurred through sheets of rain or wisps of curtains – is there almost every time she looks. Julia’s initial worry turns to full-blown paranoia when she begins to sense that someone is following her. And someone – it’s a long time before she, or we, see her face – is indeed following her. There’s a close encounter at the grocery store. Even the movies (Julia leans in to see “Charade”) aren’t an escape. At the same time, a serial killer nicknamed the Spider slits the throats of women in the city.
This basic framework could work for many grim thrillers before “Watcher,” and, no doubt, if some male filmmakers were behind the camera, there would be lingering shots of lovemaking that would position the viewer in a certain relationship. with the harasser. But Okuno, in her gripping and accomplished directorial debut, has a more devious sense of perspective. Our point of view remains linked to Julia, who, too, could be the watchdog of the title. Her fear is received sensitively but increasingly patronized by her husband. Is she being watched, he says, or is the man “just watching the woman watching him”?
This notion, that it was Julia who caught a creep’s attention — as if it were her fault — is at the heart of “Watcher.” Okuno’s taut line cleverly re-enacts a Hitchcockian thriller around, yes, a blonde heroine in Monroe, but with her own gaze and distinct anxieties.
That doesn’t mean “Watcher” doesn’t rely on well-worn stereotypes. The stalker (played by Burn Gorman) could easily slip into countless other films. But “Watcher” is less about him than the other men in the movie and how they react to Julia’s alarm. One dismisses the stalker’s interest as “probably just a little crush”. Under the pressure to ignore everything, Julia’s own certainty wavers.
Because she does not speak Romanian but her husband does, Julia often finds herself left out of conversations. It’s as if she spoke another language, entirely. One of the only ones to understand her correctly is a neighbor named Irina (a formidable Mădălina Anea). But in “Watcher,” with a never-better Monroe inheriting and transforming the kind of role once held by Kim Novak or Sharon Stone, what gets lost in translation can have fatal consequences for women.
“Watcher,” an IFC Films release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for bloody violence, language, and sexual/nudity material. Duration: 95 minutes. Three out of four stars.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP.