Watcher

**1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Watcher
"Okuno definitely has a feel for atmosphere but the look is not enough." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

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

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

They arrive at their spacious modern apartment with enormous glass windows and tasteful muted décor – the chilly atmosphere extends outwards later, all icy blues and bleak grey save from occasional pops of colour. The window seems to offer Julia an opportunity for people watching, until she realises she might not be the only one playing that game. She spots a silhouette in a window across the street and becomes further disturbed when, at night, she sees it still standing there. In the real world, this would probably be the moment when the average person would pull the curtains shut but, of course, this is the realm of the psychological thriller, so Julia must stew in the juice. There is mileage to be had from this sort of alienated set-up, with Julia’s loneliness accentuated in days filled with drifting through the neighbourhood, and her fears stoked by talk of a serial killer on the nightly news. Even the idea that maybe she wants someone, anyone, to pay her attention is interesting but like much in this film it goes unexplored in favour of more obvious plot manoeuvring.

There’s always a sense that Okuno and Ford want to push things along, upping the ante in ways that lessen the dramatic impact. Also, the muted atmosphere extends to the supporting performances with Glusman, in particular, delivering his lines in a curiously blank fashion, even Monroe feels curbed for the most part, only bringing the film to life when she’s genuinely allowed to panic. Women’s potential paranoia is the bread and butter of this sort of cinema, from Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby to Soderbergh’s Unsane but as Julia becomes convinced that she’s being followed by a man (Burn Gorman) and that he is also the mysterious watcher, we’re left in little doubt as to who to believe. Everything feels reduced to easy plot beats, like Julia’s neighbour, Irina (Madalina Anea) who comes complete with a welcoming but mysterious air, an angry ex and, just for good measure, a gun in a drawer. Okuno definitely has a feel for atmosphere but the look is not enough. Her focus feels too purely down the camera, with everything else, from plotting to performance needing more fleshing out.

Reviewed on: 09 Feb 2022
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A young woman moves into a new apartment with her fiancé and is tormented by the feeling that she is being stalked by an unseen watcher in an adjacent building.

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Jennie Kermode ****

Director: Chloe Okuno

Writer: Zack Ford

Starring: Maika Monroe, Burn Gorman, Karl Glusman, Daniel Nuta, Ciubuciu Bogdan Alexandru

Year: 2022

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: US


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