Women can be subjected to countless anxieties throughout day-to-day life, often as a result of the actions of men who feel entitled to their attentions. Is he staring at me? Is he following me? What does he want from me? Am I prepared to defend myself? Add to these the isolation and loneliness that comes along with moving to a new country where you are just learning the language and you have writer/director Chloe Okuno’s harrowing debut feature, Watcher.
Julia (a terrific Maika Monroe) has just moved to Romania with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) so that he could take a new job in advertising. The long hours spent schmoozing with clients mean that he is out of the apartment for most of the day, leaving her to wander the streets of Bucharest alone or to simply look out of their massive picture windows, through which she notices what appears to be a man standing in shadows, watching her from the tower across the street.
One evening while the couple is walking together, they come upon the scene of a murder and then later learn from some of Francis’ coworkers that a serial killer is stalking the streets of the city and decapitating young women. Julia of course becomes even more suspicious of the man across the street, who she continues to see staring towards her windows, but tries to put it out of her mind. One day while exploring alone, she decides on a whim to pop into a movie where she notices a strange man (Burn Gorman) apparently glaring at her among the sparse crowd. When he gets up and moves to the seat directly behind hers, she flees into a nearby grocery store, only for him to appear inside shortly thereafter.
Is someone really watching her? Was that man really following her? Are the two connected? The same? Real? Julia sets about trying to find the answer in a cross-city investigation reminiscent of the one Donald Sutherland sets out on in Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 classic Don’t Look Now. From the first moment she spots the watcher across the street the suspense builds relentlessly, making the viewer fear what’s around every corner and behind every door as capably as Stanley Kubrick did in The Shining. The smart script is never implausible and the decision to omit subtitles from any Romanian dialogue help to make us feel just as disoriented and alone as our lead, waiting for someone to translate for her (and us) and hope that we can rely on them to be truthful. It’s easy to put yourself in Julia’s shoes, and Monroe brilliantly handles her gradual descent into self-doubt and panic. Gorman also exudes creepiness to a degree that makes it hard not to imagine being afraid of him. Knowing where it’s all headed will undoubtedly lessen the suspense on a repeat viewing, but there’s few movies that can rival it on that front the first time around. ★★★★★
RATED R FOR SOME BLOODY VIOLENCE, LANGUAGE, AND SOME SEXUAL MATERIAL / NUDITY.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor