An Insightful European Thriller
Chloe Okuno’s feature-length directorial debut Watcher is an insightful European thriller that sizzles with unease and crackles with panic. Watcher is about a young American woman named Julia (Maika Monroe) who moves to Bucharest with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman).
She does not speak Romanian so when she gets there, she finds herself very alienated and increasingly spends a lot of time alone in her apartment as well as trying to familiarize herself with the city. She soon takes notice of a man in the apartment across from her. He’s only a silhouette from her view but he’s clear enough for her to see he is always watching her and she becomes convinced he is stalking her as she regularly becomes followed throughout the city. Julia’s fears heighten when she learns of a serial killer dubbed “The Spider” by local media who is decapitating young women.
None of this is portrayed as an overused cliche, over the top, or ridiculous because it’s not. Violence is literally a virus that is spreading across the globe as the year of 2022 continues and many of us live our lives looking over our shoulders. Julia is such a person and Monroe captures in silence what so many struggles to put into words. Watcher is entirely from Julia’s perspective. One detail that I found so insightful was that every time someone around her speaks Romanian there are no subtitles. As viewers, we empathize with Julia because we can’t understand what’s happening any more than she can. Francis who’s Romanian on his mother’s side and speaks the language fluently serves as her interpreter when he can but this doesn’t accomplish much.
Their marriage starts to shake as Julia continues to unravel in her fright. He believes she’s misinterpreting events due to the language barrier and being new to the city. It’s that feeling in your gut that says “something’s just not right” matched with that patronizing tactic men often use when they try to rationalize everything away. Trying to deescalate Julia’s fears are well-intentioned but she is really on her own. Julia’s only small comfort lies in her next-door neighbor Irina (Madalina Aena). “Am I being paranoid?” Julia asks when she’s at her lowest. “I hope you never find out” Irina replies with a saddening indifference. “It is better to live with the paranoia than to be raped and strangled and die with I told you so written on your lips”.
As I was watching this scene, I really felt how European Irina’s response was. Violence is brutal everywhere in the world but how it’s looked at and dealt with don’t always align. Europeans seem to be much more evolved than Americans in how they look at the most grueling realities. It’s this weird acceptance. They have this uncensored way of looking at the brutality that we as Americans just have never been able to adapt to.
Watcher really is a cross between Kitty Green’s The Assistant, Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, and David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. There’s this quiet stillness that allows viewers to observe all that’s happening at a slow burn pace which is fitting for the story. As horrific as some of the events are that transpire, Watcher is ultimately about the possibilities of what could happen. Stress can conjure up anything and the feeling of impending danger has a way of weakening us before the slaughter comes.
The watcher (Burn Gorman) becomes a major character in the film’s third act and I can assure you, no amount of screentime will prepare you for his arrival. His last name is Weber (Like a spider making its web very slowly) and I could not take my eyes off him partly because I was too paralyzed to look away or even close my eyes but also because I couldn’t stop thinking about how much he reminded me of Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones. He’s older, has that brown jacket, those corduroy pants, and moldy scent, he’s just THAT kind of creep. Very very specific. The kind who live in very isolated existences. He has that fishy smile and talks with that voice that creeps use when they think they’re being friendly.
Weber and Julia find themselves in the same subway car at night and the train stops due to a possible animal among the tracks. The train is very long and nearly deserted. So much has gone down by this point and Weber sits across from a silently freaked-out Julia and he torments her by making small talk. It really is just like The Lovely Bones. Once again, the creep is deep underground with his potential victim, sitting across from her. It’s easier for her to hold back her tears by remaining silent so he asks her questions so he can watch her cry. She responds with that same shakiness Saoirse Ronan once used alongside Stanley Tucci. The emotional torture in this scene is just unbearable. Very Very Nocturnal Animals because again, it’s not about the specific acts of violence, it’s about that paralyzation people have over you when they see fear wash away all color from your face leaving you a pale phantom.
Prior to this climactic scene and needing to know for herself that she’s truly being followed, Julia follows Weber and ends up at a club where erotic dancers (Irina among them) literally perform in these glass boxes where no one can touch them but the eyes feast.
Watcher at its essence is a film not about the violence that happens in our society but the violence that hasn’t happened yet. It goes back to the name “The Spider ''. The image of putting a wine glass upside down on a spider and watching it move as it’s trapped inside the glass is where we are now. The icky nauseous discomfort that’s not for entertainment or shock value but mirrors a reality where no amount of shattered glass can abort the reflection staring back at us. It’s not us. It’s always someone else. Just someone else coming closer.
IMDb.com. (2022, June 3). Watcher. IMDb. Retrieved June 14, 2022, from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt12004038/