Director: Chloe Okuno
Writers: Zack Ford, Chloe Okuno
Stars: Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Burn Gorman
Chloe Okuno could have struck gold when the production of “Watcher” moved from New York to Bucharest, Romania. The city’s mix of gloomy, brutalist Eastern European architecture and baroque government buildings only add to the isolation felt by the film’s protagonist, Julia, as she escorts her when her half-Romanian husband is transferred. there for work. Add to that a strong language barrier and a neighbor who may or may not be spying on her from across the street, and you have all the ingredients for a tense paranoid thriller. Writing the screenplay with Zack Ford, Okuno was inspired by filmmakers like Roman Polanski and Sofia Coppola, both masters of portraying what it’s like to be a stranger in a foreign place. But instead of leaning into ambiguous tensions and bizarre experiences, “Watcher 2022” doesn’t live up to its inspirations, ending on a predictable, heavy-handed journey through genre tropes with a rather lifeless cast in the background. its core. “Watcher” spells out every plot point, as we wish it would slowly, playfully pull the strings of our anxieties.
The film focuses on the days that Julia spends alone in the city while her husband Francis is at work, either in her luxurious apartment or wandering the winding streets of Bucharest. The monotony of the city is beautifully rendered in a kind of gloom that makes her feel a bit out of time, and Julia floats through her surroundings in a kind of dazed awareness, curious about her surroundings but distracted by a lingering sense of to be followed. “The Spider,” a serial killer who slashes women’s throats to the point of decapitating them, is also on the loose, in case Julia needs any more reasons to feel stressed. Monroe, who is at his best when he is able to unleash attacks of fear and panic, gives a much more reserved performance here than in “It Follows.” He’s only given her a few moments to release some of his pent-up energy, which he does with a captivating display of mania that could have been better spread throughout the film.
Press releases state that Okuno’s goal in making the film was to capture “a kind of constant, uncomfortable dread that accompanies many women throughout their lives.” This sentiment is not to be mocked, as it is when Julia shares her fears with Francis. As she tries to portray an unconscious and unresponsive husband, Glusman’s performance feels flashy and unconvincing. Francis is worried about his wife but doesn’t believe her, more concerned with impressing his local friends and colleagues than addressing her concerns. His lack of concern for his wife’s well-being just feels cruel, and while there are hints that her marriage is not a happy one, this plot point remains largely unexplored. Fortunately, Julia finds an ally in the woman next door, the mysterious Irina, who invites her out for a drink and reveals that she keeps a gun in her coffee table drawer, in case her melodramatic boyfriend ever gets away. slipped out of his hands. The Chekhovian weapon feels more obvious than sinister.
There are a handful of convenient plot devices that inelegantly remove any real potential for tension throughout the film. Halfway through, we discover that there are curtains on the windows of Julia’s apartment, and we wonder why she has never closed them if she is so reluctant to be watched. As Julia’s fears continue to be ignored, we may wonder if she is enjoying the attention of this stranger, who is perhaps serving as a stand-in for her rather absent husband. She first feels him following her as she wanders into the middle of a morning screening of “Charade,” then to the grocery store where she nearly buys cigarettes; she had quit a few months ago, but when she finally gives in and buys a pack, it serves as a great way to show signs of stress on screen. She eventually ends up following him in exchange for her, to the point where he shows up at her apartment with a police officer who asks her to stop. The stranger’s face is revealed at this point, and his lack of eye contact and eerily flat features place him squarely in the serial killer camp.
Okuno also cites Kieślowski as an influence, and his brilliant “A Short Film About Love,” with witty nods to “Rear Window,” conveys the vague relationship between a voyeur and his model, the beautiful woman across the street who finally comes to enjoy being watched. Of course, we can’t criticize Okuno for a feature debut that doesn’t quite reach the level of Kieślowski or Hitchcock, but we can expect something that tries to interrogate these kinds of questions about the viewer and the subject of him with a bit more finesse.