Netflix’s The Watcher plays like a hybrid of Ryan Murphy fanfiction and it’s own nonsensical multiple-episode documentaries that don’t have a resolution. There are seven episodes in this series and you could’ve spent no more than seven minutes looking online at the true story on which it is based to get the whole story. In 2014, A family, the Broadduses spent $1.3 million to buy a house in Westfield, N.J. and then started receiving letters that were violent and dark in nature. And no one was ever found to be responsible.
That’s the story. Derek and Marie Broaddus never moved in with their three children because of the the threatening letters. They started doing renovations but never officially moved in and let it set vacant for six months. They put it on the market and it spent years before they found a buyer in 2019 who paid about $400,000 less. That’s the end of the story.
I knew going in when I saw Murphy’s name attached he would add his own odd sense of the macabre to it but this is a stinker. Supposedly, the Broadduses sold their rights for a good price, possibly to recoup money they lost on the house located at 657 Boulevard. The names have been changed so it’s now Dean and Maria Brannock (Bobby Cannavale and Naomi Watts) who attend an open house and notice a lot of odd characters such as the simple-minded Jasper Winslow (Terry Kiney) and his pig-tailed sister, Pearl (Mia Farrow). There’s also an odd well-dressed older man, Roger Kaplan (Michael Nouri), who admires the house’s structure.
It just so happens that Maria and the realtor Karen Calhoun (Jennifer Coolidge) are old-friends and after some help in getting the money, they find themselves new owners of the house. But their next-door neighbors, Mitch (Richard Kind) and Maureen/Mo (Margo Martindale) are not too happy. And almost as soon as they’re getting settled in, they start getting the letters.
The local police through Det. Rourke Chamberland (Christopher McDonald) don’t seem like much help. And the neighbors aren’t too nice as the Brannocks. Oh, and the pet ferret dies by an unseen figure, because of course the fucking family pet has to die. It’s an awful set-up that seems dated for any generic horror movie. But for a seven-episode series where each is 45-50 minutes long, it just becomes boring.
The series might make some great background noise if you want to marathon watch it on a weekend as you do other things around the house. But it lacks any originality. Part of the problem is that Watts and Cannavale seem to be in a different production from the rest of the cast. Farrow overacts. Kinney was one of the founding members of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and he’s having to degrade himself for a Boo Radley/Simple Jack role. Even Kind and Martindale, who are always worth watching in just about anything, are poorly used for one-dimensional characters.
Noma Dumezweni is a surprise as a private investigator Theodora Birch the Brannocks hire. But the plotlines are basic soap opera melodrama that don’t make much sense. Dean and Nora are either arguing or making up. Luke David Blumm plays their son, Carter, who suddenly becomes a background extra once the ferret is killed. And there’s an issue over their daughter, Ellie (Isabell Gravitt), who at 16 begins a relationship with the 19-year-old Dakota (Henry Hunter Hall), who’s black. I mention that because there’s an issue in which Ellie makes a social media post in which she accuses Dean of not liking her being with a black person.
Like I said, this series is so full of soap opera style subplots about people claiming to be one person but actually another. And we see someone might be in cahoots with this person, but they’re actually not because it’s these other people. In a tasteless move, they introduce a guy (Joe Mantello) who claims to be a building inspector but may be John Graff, a previous occupant of the house who killed his wife, son and daughter, as well as mother. This character is modeled after John List who also murdered his wife, mother, son and daughter. Hey, why not mix two true-crime stories together? Murphy mixes true-crime cases in with his American Horror Story shows.
I’m surprised Murphy didn’t have Nora become possessed by the devil like Marlena Evans on The Days of Our Lives. Like I said, since there’s no resolution on who was leaving the letters in real life, we don’t find out here which makes it perfect for Netflix. The movie ends with the Brannocks finally selling the house after it nearly destroyed their family. It’s like The Simpsons episode where Homer asks Marge if it’s a happy ending or a sad ending and she just responds it’s an ending.
What do you think? Please comment.