Movie Review: ‘Watcher’

One of my favorite things about Shudder is that it gives up-and-coming filmmakers with fresh ideas for the horror genre a platform to be introduced to a wider audience. Without Shudder I never would have known about Demian Rugna’s absolutely chilling Terrified or the bloody and brilliant The Sadness from Rob Jabbaz. After this weekend I can safely add Chloe Okuno to that list of directors proving that the future of horror cinema is bright with the release of her new thriller Watcher.

American woman Julia has moved to a new life with her husband Francis who has taken a promising job in Bucharest. As she struggles to adapt to life in a country she is completely naïve to, Julia realizes that she is being watched by a man in the building across the street. Things escalate as this stranger begins following her around the city. As her paranoia grows her husband and the police doubt her experiences, and her neighbor Irina seems to be the only one on her side. As the man across the street’s campaign of stalking grows Julia is forced deeper into desperation.

Chloe Okuno and her cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen absolutely deserve every bit of applause one can muster for their work on Watcher. The visual language they have constructed alone tells a compelling story. At times we see things from Julia’s POV as a stranger in a strange land descending into paranoia. But for the majority of the film the camera is trained on her in a variety of angles and perspectives putting us in the shoes of the voyeuristic watcher of the title. Cleverly a number of shots are framed peering through windows and doors at the young woman adding a physical tangibility to the idea of leering at her. It helps that indie horror veteran Maika Monroe has such a captivating screen presence and through facial expressions and body language can tell the entire story of what is going on with Julia throughout this terrifying ordeal.

Displaying a true handle on a Hitchcockian rule of building suspense, Okuno is sure that we as the audience knows the true potential of danger at every moment of the movie even if the characters onscreen are not always sure. This is of course, with the exception of Julia who is keenly aware at the lurking danger she faces. The fact that nobody, from the police to her own husband, believes her about this stalker obsessing over her only adds to the tension we feel as an audience. From there Okuno adds little things to heighten the suspense piece by piece. The watcher will wave at her or when she abruptly leaves a screening of Charade for the refuge of the market he follows her there. Only adding to the tension is the fact that a serial killer known as “the Spider” is operating in the area as well, leading us to wonder if there is a connection. It all hits the crescendo putting you at the edge of your seat during a heart pounding confrontation on the train between Julia and her stalker.

This could have been a run-of-the-mill thriller but Chloe Okuno hits all of the right beats every step of the way in making Watcher. The terror and isolation the protagonist feels radiates from the screen in a suspense flick that is as terrifying as it is stunning in a visual sense. It is safe to say that she has a talent that will make her one of the top filmmakers specializing in fear for years to come.