Directed by Chloe Okuno and co-written with Zack Ford, as a serial killer stalks the city, Julia – a young actress who just moved to town with her boyfriend – notices a mysterious stranger watching her from across the street. Starring: Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Madalina Anea and Burn Gorman.
Slow-burning, under your skin style thrillers are a quintessential genre of cinema, they aren’t found as often in the age of superheroes and sequels, but Watcher fills that need. What filmmakers can at times forget is the success of a good thriller is often in its simplicity, adding flashy twists and turns simply takes away from the suspense. Chloe Okuno and Zack Ford use a simple concept but flood it with insecurity, paranoia, loneliness and anxiety. It begs the classic question of if things are as Julia (Maika Monroe) thinks, or if her imagination is getting the better of her? The filmmakers balance the story so well as to not reveal the answer until it enters its finale. The pacing is excellent, it’s gripping to watch and holds a relatively short runtime but never feels rushed. It has time to linger and boost its tense atmosphere, and it only introduces a handful of characters to keep the story nicely contained. It also demonstrates the fact that all cinema goers know to be true, if you’re in an empty screen and a person sits directly behind you, they are not to be trusted.
Another element which always plays into the success of a thriller is how well its direction can enhance the atmosphere and tension of its story, and Chloe Okuno does a brilliant job. Firstly there’s the sense of isolation it builds, especially through its framing and use of negative space, intensifying both the feel of Julia being alone and of having an observer. Its cinematography has an enticing sharpness, adding superb touches of colour here and there to accent the aesthetic. It moves in a confidently suave manner, it’s beautifully tense and suspenseful, it gives away just enough and most importantly doesn’t cheapen itself in the end. It doesn’t go overboard trying to satisfy its audience with unnecessary amounts of violence, it employs a touch of the graphic in perfect balance with the elegance of the tone it had built up until then.
The supporting characters definitely have a part to play here but there’s no denying that Maika Monroe steals the spotlight. Monroe interestingly has now appeared in a trio of understated thrilling pieces of cinema, from The Guest to It Follows to Watcher. She’s an actress who’s doing superb work but hasn’t yet got the appreciation which she deserves. This film is yet another example of that, she creates a sympathetic character while barely revealing that much about herself, you’re easily drawn into her suspicions. Okuno creates a perspective that’s both through Julia’s eyes and an outsider, which is ideal to keep you both invested and dubious. Karl Glusman, Madalina Anea and Burn Gorman round out the team with aplomb, each provides exactly what’s needed, but again the attention is almost all directed to Monroe to fully embrace the atmosphere of obsession and distrust.
Watcher succeeds where so many others have failed in modern cinema, creating a satisfying, tense and gripping thriller. Led terrifically by Maika Monroe, effortlessly drawing us into a story that harks back to classic film, questioning whether Julia’s losing her grip on reality or justifiably worried. It’s tense, suspenseful, understated yet sharp and graceful, giving you exactly what you want in a cleverly shot, well acted and superbly paced package.