Is the cinema audience a prescient voyeur looking at the fantastic lives of fictional characters through the prism of a movie screen? This is the question that Chloe Okuno’s first feature, “Watcher” tries to answer. What audiences would have to go through to identify with a protagonist is another hypothesized dilemma.
“Watcher” is a slow-burning movie that doesn’t burn at all as the runtime is full of meaningless contradictions of character and plot. Watching “Watcher” is more of a chore than entertainment as you will find yourself looking at the clock rather than the screen.
The film is about an American named Julia, played by Maika Monroe, who moves to Romania with her boyfriend Francis to get a job promotion. It is a fish out of water and has difficulty adapting to its new environment due to the language barrier, which causes its isolation.
She begins to notice the uncomfortable feeling that someone is constantly watching her through the large window of her apartment while the idea of closing the blinds never crosses her mind until she realizes that she is being watched. Her fears are exacerbated when she learns of a serial killer who beheaded local women on her way home one night with Francis. She begins to suspect that it may be this mysterious man who watches her incessantly through her constantly open window.
The film then begins its heavy pace with this finally introduced setup. We don’t even learn what Julia and Francis are doing in Romania until an hour into the story.
The main problem with “Watcher” is how Okuno portrays his waiting victim. Julia is often the one seen chasing the man she believes to be the one at the window. The man at the window doesn’t really do anything that could be construed as dangerous other than the creepy act of looking at her, which is obviously the focus of the film.
A woman’s intuition is seen as a kind of gospel and believing women when they express their concerns or fears is of the utmost importance in real life. The problem is that in this fictional world, her fears are completely unfounded by everything in the film, except for her intuition. We should identify a failure in men in his life due to their lack of faith in her concerns, but this message is only deduced from the writer’s actions, not the characters in the story. Without spoiling the plot, it’s similar to the way a writer can simply claim through the story that a character is smart without ever showing how smart she is.
Julia’s fears are motivated, not by what we see on screen, but more by what ultimately happens due to the way the writer takes the story. The men in his life are not indifferent or incredulous; they simply have to take the facts literally.
Even the unbearable slowness of the film doesn’t help matters. Rather than the tense, suspenseful and shivering moments of this aforementioned predatory acting observer, we see Julia instigating most of the conflict while the man at the window is just trying to cope with her day. This makes the pace of the film feel like we’re repeating moments of boring interactions rather than witnessing chilling sequences.
Things are not helped by the fact that much of the language is spoken in Romanian with no subtitles. This was likely done to put the audience in Julia’s shoes as an isolated stranger, but it leads to long stretches of the film with no intelligible dialogue unless you are fluent in Romanian.
The actor who plays Francis, Karl Glusman, delivers a dry performance that also breaks the tension with his bland acting. Overall, “Watcher” is a film that suffers from omnipotent writers forcing their admirable message through an ending that doesn’t seem deserved, especially when you have to witness the slow-paced, poorly-acted story that presents this laudable argument.
– “Watcher” is rated R and is scheduled at Marquee Cinemas, Gallery 14, in Beckley.