The horror genre seems to be fruitful for new directors. Effective horror can be often made on low-budget, which allows directors with a vision to stretch their creative muscles. The feature debut of Chloe Okuno is Watcher, and it comes with a simple, classic premise. A woman (Maika Monroe) and her husband (Karl Glusman) move to Romania and she begins to believe she is being watched by a man (Burn Gorman) across the street. She begins to see him everywhere, as her paranoia grows while stories of a serial killer targeting women dominate news headlines.
Okuno pays lots of homage to her influences throughout the film. From having the lead character go see the Hitchcockian Stanley Donen-directed Charade to shots mirroring the claustrophobia of Rosemary’s Baby and the Eastern European influences akin to Repulsion, Okuno has used what she’s learned to great effect. We are placed into the perspective of our lead character in a major way and feel her growing sense of fear and isolation, even in public areas. That the film is in Romania and everyone speaks Romanian, with no subtitles, lets the audience feel her sense of isolation.
The film has a fairly obvious commentary about women’s experiences in the world and about not being believed and treated as crazy when they feel the watchful gaze of men. Even her own husband is doubtful. Monroe has earned a reputation as a scream queen due to her involvement in a few horror flicks, and she is more than capable here. She plays a really great balance of looking afraid while maintaining her own inner strength.
The film also cast well for the alleged watcher. Gorman is a creepy and odd-looking guy, but he also has a degree of meekness and a pathetic quality that makes him pitiable. This works for a film that constantly teases your expectations of whether or not our lead is overreacting.
The only weakness of the film is the ending. It dodges around what would have been a potentially more interesting choice for the script, and it has a final sequence that feels more than a tad unrealistic. While the message is that not all of these films should end with women as victims, the choices make it feel a tad silly and overblown.
This is a minor complaint in an otherwise effective film. Watcher is not a genre-changing masterpiece, but it shows that Okuno has all the tools to go forward and make something truly great. For a brisk 90-minutes, Watcher provides suitable thrills and never gets too stupid. That’s all you really need for good horror.