A movie like Watcher is more about tone than it is about jump scares and even violence. That’s what I like about horror/thrillers like this. Chloe Okuno wrote and directed the movie. She also directed the Ratman segment of V/H/S ’94, which also provided a nice tone of claustrophia as a female reporter and male camera man go into a storm drain to see if the mythical Ratman is correct. It was a disturbing segment in the movie that used violence whenever it was necessary.
For her feature directorial debut, Okuno focus on a young married couple who move to Bucharest, Romania. Francis (Karl Glusman), of Romanian ancestry, has accepted a new job. He speaks Romania, but his wife, Julia (Maika Monroe) doesn’t. When the movie begins, they’re in a taxicub on the way from airport to the apartment as the driver and Francis carry on a conversation in Romanian. He says something that seems to upset Francis but they both smooth it over.
At the new apartment, things are worse as Julia can’t sleep on the first night but looks out the bedroom window and thinks she sees someone across the street looking out the window. Is he looking in her direction or somewhere else? At first, she enjoys walking around Bucharest but there’s a language barrier as she walks into a building that’s not open to the public and is met by a security guard. And most of the other tenants don’t speak English and think she knows Romanian.
However, there is some relief as their next-door neighbor, Irina (Madalina Anea), who has a questionable lifestyle, does speak English and they become friendly. Irina is an exotic dancer and there’s suspicion she’s something else. One night, Francis and Julia go out for a walk around the neighborhood only to discover police and paramedics are outside another apartment building. The next day, they learn that the headless body of a woman was found and authorities are saying it’s the work of “The Spider.”
Still Julia begins to see the figure in the window, but is he watching her or she watching him? She tries to go out to see a matinee movie, but someone sits directly behind her at the movie theater. Is it the man in the window? She doesn’t know. Neither do we as she bolts out of the theater. Later, she goes shopping at the supermarket where she thinks she sees him again. There is a man, Daniel Weber (Burn Gorman), who wears a beige brown Members Only style jacket and a black slacks. Is he following her or just a local out shopping as Francis suggests?
One evening, she decides to wave at the man in the window and he waves back which gets Francis angry and he gives the finger, but the lights are off so he doesn’t know if the man is there. Who is the man across the street? Who is the man in the theater or the supermarket? Are they they same? She follows Daniel to the strip club where he apparently seems to work in janitorial. Irina also dances there but she’s unfamiliar with him as cleaning staff come and go.
Depression kicks in as Francis works longer hours at his job, leaving her alone in an apartment that looks nice and big at first but soon looks empty. During one night when Francis and Julia hosts another couple for supper, Julia seems out of place as everyone talks in Romanian. Eventually, she takes the plates and puts them in the sink, then takes out the trash without them noticing.
Julia, at one time, was an actress. But we don’t know what that means. Was she a theater actress? Did she do any film, TV or commercial work? Or did she just do local stuff and realize it wasn’t a living. I get the sense from the first scene that things are already rocky between Francis and Julia. This move from America overseas to a foreign country probably didn’t happen without much discussions (and possible fights and arguments) about the future of their marriage. Also, what is Julia giving up more than dreams of being an actress?
Monroe plays the role with a little bit of sadness in her eyes. The dreary Bucharest city is a perfect setting. Julia lives a life of boredom that eventually turns to her suspecting a neighbor might be a killer. You can see a lot of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Coming as it did after two years of the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, you can sense that Okuno is showing how the boredom affected us. When Julia goes out, she’s afraid of Daniel. But when she’s at home, she’s afraid of seeing him, even if she shuts the curtains.
Monroe gives a nice performance as Okuno also plays on the ways women are treated. I don’t know how things are in Romania, but even around other women, Julia seems meek. At a cocktail party at Francis’ work, things get worse as Julia seems out of place as everyone talks Romanian. Even more so, they treat her as she’s a child because she doesn’t speak their language. The fear that people are talking about you in another language is on full display here.
As for Gorman, he’s perfectly cast. Gorman looks a lot like a younger Willem Dafoe. He carries on his performance in a meek, silent manner that almost mirrors Monroe. There’s nothing wrong with being introverted. With his jacket and slacks, he looks the guy who never asked a girl out growing up because he was afraid of rejection. He also has a background that I won’t reveal.
And not to give anything away, but the ending does have a nice payoff. It’s not a cop out or a cheat. But you’ll never look at a plastic bag from a retail store/takeout restaurant the same again without questioning the outline. In 2021, Netflix released The Woman in the Window and it got bad reviews despite it’s A-list cast. Watcher is currently streaming on Shudder and only took six weeks to film and probably on a small fraction of that movie’s budget and without the production problems. Sometimes less is more.
Watcher should be an eye-opener to what many women deal with on a daily basis as they try to go out to do normal things with a worry that someone is following them. I’m sure a lot of woman will watch this and relate to it.
What do you think? Please comment.