Watcher (2022) Eye for Film Film Review

“Okuno definitely has a sense of the atmosphere but the look is not enough.” | Photo: Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Julia (Maika Monroe) becomes a stranger in a strange land in Chloe Okuno’s cool-turned-thriller – but her film, co-written with Zack Ford suffers from the reverse problem in that all of its elements are far too familiar.

Recently moved to Romania with her half-Romanian husband Francis (Karl Glusman), Julia left behind an acting career and is immediately greeted by a wall of strangers, even in the airport taxi, where she is barred of the conversation Francis has with the driver because she doesn’t speak the language yet. The couple’s dynamic is clear from the start, with Karl casually dismissing his fears, which are about to be taken to a whole new level.

They arrive in their spacious, modern apartment with huge bay windows and tasteful understated decor – the chilly atmosphere later extends outside, all icy blues and dark grays except for the occasional splash of color. The window seems to offer Julia an opportunity for people to watch, until she realizes that she might not be the only one playing this game. She sees a figure in a window of across the street and becomes even more troubled when, at night, she sees her still up. In the real world, this would probably be the time when the average person would close the curtains but, of course, this is the realm of psychological thrillers, so Julia must be stewing in the juice. There’s mileage to be had from this sort of alienated setup, with Julia’s loneliness heightened by days filled with drifting around the neighborhood, and her fears stoked by talking about a serial killer on the evening news. Even the idea that she maybe wants someone, anyone, to pay her attention is interesting, but like many in this movie, it goes unexplored in favor of more obvious plot maneuvers.

There’s always a sense that Okuno and Ford want to push things along, upping the ante in ways that lessen the dramatic impact. Plus, the hushed atmosphere extends to the supporting performances with Glusman in particular delivering her lines in a curiously pristine way even Monroe feels held back most of the time, only bringing the film to life when she’s genuinely allowed to panic. The potential paranoia of women is the bread and butter of this genre of cinema, from Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby to Soderbergh’s Unsane, but as Julia becomes convinced that she is being followed by a man (Burn Gorman) and that he is also the mysterious observer, we are left with little doubt as to whom to believe. Everything seems reduced to easy plot beats, like Julia’s neighbor Irina (Madalina Anea) who comes in with a welcoming but mysterious air, an angry ex and, just for good measure, a gun in a drawer. Okuno definitely has a sense of atmosphere but looks aren’t enough. Its focus seems too purely on camera, with everything from plot to performance needing more fleshing out.

Reviewed on: 09 Feb. 2022

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