Stars: Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Burn Gorman Director: Chloe Okuno Distributor: Universal Pictures / Focus Features
“He’s staring right at me.”
Watcher is a horrific psychological thriller through the perspective of a woman, directed by a woman. This isn’t a film equipped with the most violent or grotesque of occurrences, but one with the suggestions and anxieties of what atrocities have occurred and very well could occur.
Julia (Maika Monroe) and her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) relocate to gloomy Bucharest, Romania in pursuit of career advancement in marketing for the latter in the couple. Julia, however, has quit acting, and is trying to find her way best around the town with little application of the language, whereas for Francis, this is a slight return to the homeland having a Romanian mother growing up in America.
With limited capabilities in the foreign land, Julia almost has to establish the city environment as a character in its own right, frequenting in a coffee shop where she practices the language. Another interaction comes in the form of a visual one. A two-way visual. Feeding curiosity by gazing out of her apartment window, she finds the subject of her vision staring right back at her from the opposing, somewhat eerie-looking highrise building.
Immediately, a trauma is established, and her time of happiness has transcended into a time of consistent dread. Venturing out to the coffee shop, the cinema, and the supermarket have all become potential danger zones with the fear of being watched and stalked by a stranger…
But, is this all in Julia’s head? Is this just a generic female anxiety of creepy men on the prowl? Gradually, the direction of Watcher lets the viewer judge as to whether Julia is just overreacting – her boring husband and his colleagues seem to think so, the neighbours included. With an excruciatingly limited Romanian dialect too, and constantly feeling out of place, there is perhaps an unintentional xenophobic element too. The non-existence of subtitles too aid the viewer in experiencing Julia’s uncomfortable viewpoint too.
Maika Monroe is phenomenal as Julia. Her terror feels legitimate and authentic, regardless as to whether she’s actually being stalked or not. Whether it is actually happening or not, the anxiety over the possibility of it happening, is all too powerful.
In an establishment of great surprise, there is a lack of voyeurism amongst the watching. Not taken from the perspective of the potential watcher, as this is all about the woman and her viewpoint, there is no generic sleaze in place either, other than the minimal sights of the Bucharest underworld and neglected apartment buildings. Having this story taken from the female perspective manages to strip away a collection of genre and style conventions. Not to say that Watcher isn’t predictable here and there, but there are shocks and surprises, which may not have been present otherwise.
With a core element of the visual text being a toying of the ways in which female concerns are dismissed, this is an excellent debut feature from Chloe Okuno. Watcher is a thrilling, traumatizing and important film about the anxieties suffered by women on a daily basis, this is one with a message as clear as day: listen to women.
Watcher can now be watched in UK cinemas.
This article’s featured image: By Source, IFC Films, Fair Use https://www.imdb.com/title/tt12004038/mediaviewer/rm315759873/?ref_=tt_ov_i