The best part about WATCHER (2022) is that it speaks to the vulnerabilities and frustrations women face when speaking out about being stalked, as here even the main character’s husband struggles to believe her fears are real.
The worst part is its story is told at such a dreadfully slow pace that it is difficult to get through, and it withholds any real shock until the final few minutes of the movie.
WATCHER, which premiered in theaters in June and is now available to rent or buy on Prime Video, tells the story of Julia (Maika Monroe), an American woman who relocates with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) to Romania, as his job gives him the opportunity to return to his native country. Not knowing the language, Julia finds herself isolated and alone while Francis works long hours at the office, and she soon notices in the window of an apartment across from theirs the figure of a man who seems to be watching her. While she’s out and about in the city, she notices a man (Burn Gorman) following her, and she believes it’s the same man in the window.
Further complicating matters is the fact that there is a serial killer at large who decapitates his female victims. Julia tells Francis about the man, and they call the police, and the officer investigates and basically tells the man to stop watching Julia through the window. But Julia continues to see him, and she decides to be proactive and starts following him to learn more about his identity. Eventually he calls the police on her, and when the police show up at their door, Francis begins to believe that his wife is getting carried away with things that aren’t real. But Julia persists in believing that the man is following her, and her frustrations grow when her husband pretty much stops believing her.
The audience most likely stops believing her as well, as the film offers very little evidence to support that her fears are real. But just before the end credits roll, the film takes a shocking turn, and the final few minutes of this one, by far the very best part of this movie, go for the throat and really deliver a horrifying crushing conclusion.
That being said, while I really liked the ending, WATCHER is the type of movie with its long-drawn-out scenes of Julia alone roaming around Bucharest looking over her shoulder that I don’t generally enjoy, as for the bulk of the story not a lot happens. We mostly watch Julia exist alone as her fears ramp up that she’s being stalked by a serial killer. This doesn’t translate to easy viewing, even for a movie that’s only 91 minutes long. So, I have to admit that for a lot of this movie I was bored.
But director Chloe Okuno succeeds on two fronts. One, we really feel the same sense of isolation which Julia feels living in a foreign country not knowing the language and having a husband who works all the time. Most of the movie features scenes of Julia alone and struggling to adapt. And two, as I mentioned earlier, Okuno captures that sense of frustration for women who struggle to be believed when they report their fears of being stalked. At one point Francis makes a joke to his co-workers at Julia’s expense, in Romanian, but Julia gets the gist of it and storms away. And as the movie shows, the price for not being believed is often deadly.
Maika Monroe, with her fashionable haircut and clothes, looks more mature than the younger lead character she played a few years back in the superior horror movie IT FOLLOWS (2014), and she gives a performance that is equally as effective. She plays Julia as a character who is not overwhelmed by her isolation and who takes proactive steps to fit in, but the longer the stranger watches and follows her without anyone intervening to stop him, the more unraveled she eventually becomes. Even so, she remains steadfast and strong to the last. It’s a really good performance.
I also enjoyed Karl Glusman as Julia’s husband Francis. He’s just the right balance of concerned loving husband with the “I have to work, and I don’t know what else to do to help you” attitude to make him seem very real. He never deviates into a complete jerk which would have made him cliche.
And Burn Gorman is sufficiently creepy as the silent man who watches Julia, pretty much saying nothing until late in the movie, and even then, even as he is proclaiming his innocence, he still exudes weirdness.
Director Chloe Okuno wrote the screenplay based on a prior screenplay by Zack Ford, and it features realistic dialogue and characterizations, as well as a story that ultimately works, even though it takes its time getting to anything worthy of this movie being called a thriller. It’s a slow burn ride for sure.
However, the ending is really, really good! Shocking is the best word for it.
But because of its snail-like pacing, taken as a whole, WATCHER is a mixed bag. Intellectually, I liked its story and what it had to say about women needing to be believed and taken seriously from the get-go, but emotionally the film is lacking until its powerful final few minutes.
And the voyeurism theme is downplayed here. Even though the film is entitled WATCHER and does feature someone watching Julia inside her apartment, this plot point is minimal, and the story is more about the fear Julia feels from being followed on the streets of Bucharest. The film THE VOYEURS (2021) starring Sydney Sweeney did a better job overall dealing with the theme of voyeurism, although its plot eventually goes down a ridiculous path leading to a rather dumb disappointing ending, whereas WATCHER remains low-key throughout and then goes for the jugular in the final few minutes of the movie. The ending to WATCHER is its best part.
I imagine women will appreciate WATCHER more than men, as they can more easily relate to the fears Julia experiences throughout the story. However, regardless of gender, if you can stick with it and get through the slow burn pace, you’ll come face to face with quite the lurid ending.