Film Review: Watcher (2022)

Year: 2022
Runtime: 91 Minutes
Director: Chloe Okuno
Writer: Chloe Okuno (Written for the Screen by), Zack Ford (Based on the Screenplay by)
Stars: Maika Monroe, Burn Gorman, Karl Glusman

By Tom Moore

The latest film from IFC Midnight and writer/director Chloe Okuno, “Watcher”(2022), is an immersive nerve-shredder with slow-growing horrors and an excellent lead performance.

At its core, “Watcher” is a relatively standard stalker story as it follows a woman named Julia (Maika Monroe) who finds that she’s being watched by a man in a building across from her. However, Okuno elevates the viewing experience by immersing viewers into both Julia’s perspective and “Watcher’s” grounded paranoia. With Julia moving to Romania after her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) relocates there for work, there are a lot of things that make her feel more isolated and alone. Her inability to speak Romanian fluently makes her an outcast in most situations and heavily lean on Francis for social interactions. Most of the time if Francis isn’t by her side, Julia hits a rough language barrier and even when he is, she tends to be locked out of conversations he has with others making her more paranoid about what they’re saying.

The use of language barriers and Julia feeling uncomfortable with her surroundings creates this perfectly unsettling atmosphere and there are these relatable moments viewers have with Julia feeling outcasted by cultural obstacles. Monroe’s performance makes you instantly connect with Julie’s growing frustration and isolation in this setting and only becomes more compelling when she’s forced to face this strange man watching her from a window. The shadowy mystery around the film’s titular watcher instantly piques your interest and that cold visage of him watching in the window is just chilling. It’s really smart how Okuno is patient in fully revealing the man’s identity as it lets his presence stay haunting and unsettling. After all, just seeing his shadow in the window is enough gives viewers goosebumps and Okuno crafts some strong scares and suspense that really seep deep under your skin.

“Watcher’s” sound design does a great job setting a tone and building up suspense in small, but effective ways and Okuno utilizes each environment well to create some grounded horror. There are some sequences here that’ll really immerse you into Julia’s mindset and sitting in movie theaters or shopping in grocery stores will never feel the same again. “Watcher’s” best moments are the ones that touch on that daily fear of someone watching or following you and there are multiple times when it nails capturing that realistic fear. It especially succeeds in showcasing the female perspective in a situation like this through Julia’s fight to be believed and some of the strategic gaslighting that occurs.

“Watcher” slowly evolves from just being a terrifying stalker story into a thrilling cat and mouse game that sees Julia fight for anyone to see the truth. As Julia tries to get people to see what she sees, she’s constantly met with doubt, especially from Francis, and continues to be hindered even more by cultural and social barriers that unexpectedly make her look worse. Things only get more complicated for her when the watcher steps out from the shadows and starts to use her intrigue and determination to catch him against her. Monroe delivers a captivating on-edge performance that heavily rivals her breakout debut in “It Follows” and even the performance that comes from the watcher, played by Burn Gorman, is flawless as he continually makes you unsure of his intentions and motives through his shadowy ambiguity.

Everything leads to this incredible final act clash that keeps you guessing and features some surprisingly brutal horror. It’s actually interesting how “Watcher” lets you sink into one possibility of things not being what they seem and then uses a hanging plot thread to shock the hell out of you. The scary and surprisingly bloody turn the final act takes feels immensely satisfying in how it feels like the culmination of a nightmare coming to life and allows Julia an empowering moment to revel in the truth coming to light by taking action. It’s memorably gut-wrenching and wild, something that all great thrillers strive to achieve with their finale.

“Watcher” is the kind of psychologically unnerving thriller that audiences are always on the lookout for and features some stellar direction from Okuno, that makes for a killer feature directorial debut, as well as a career-best performance from Monroe that elevates an already intriguing and immersive stalker story.

4.5 stars

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