Movie Review: “The Watchers”


Movie Review: The Watchers

There are a lot of possibilities competing for your money and attention these days. From TV to video games to YouTube to TikTok to books and far more, we are not lacking in options for entertainment. So, a movie like “The Watchers” is at a strange place where it’s not a terrible film, but it does little to further an argument for devoting your time and resources to it. A competently made feature debut by Ishana Shyamalan, it shows some skill and potential promise as a director but lacks anything really engaging as a writer. To be fair, “The Watchers” was adapted from a novel by A.M. Fine and may be a slavishly devoted adaptation, but Shyamalan’s script struggles to inject anything interesting into the premise, robbing it of emotional intensity and any deeper meaning. The Irish countryside is a beautiful location, and the cast does an adequate job with what they are given, but too much of “The Watchers” is met with a shrug of indifference.

Mina (Dakota Fanning) is an ex-pat living in Ireland and living a life of quiet desperation. She works at an exotic pet store and avoids talking to her sister after their mom died 15 years ago. When Mina is tasked with bringing a special parrot to the Belfast zoo, she soon finds herself lost in a mysterious woods that seemingly kills her car and her cell phone. Soon she encounters three people who are holed up in a strange structure in the middle of the woods. It’s imperative she comes inside before nightfall, because that’s when ravenous monsters come out. These are the Watchers, and they surround the house every night to observe the group until sunrise. Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), Ciara (Georgina Campbell), and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan) have been living in this situation for months, all unfortunate souls who each found themselves suddenly trapped in this weird forest by these hateful creatures. But Mina is determined to escape.

One would think that the idea of being watched all night, every night, for months would have deeper ramifications and effects on people. Because…it would. It would alter your behavior, it would change your thought process, it would provoke larger questions about why the audience is so interested (or, at least, what interests them). But none of that is remotely raised in “The Watchers.” The closest to addressing these issues is by having Mina cart around that bird in the cage and occasionally watching an old romance reality TV competition DVD. And while the feeble attempts at analogy are appreciated, there’s just no added depth to the central premise (and from whence the creatures get their names).

Which would be fine—not every horror movie needs to be a commentary on humanity like “Barbarian,” “Hostel Part II,” or “Dawn of the Dead.” But then there has to be something to invest in and care about. If you’re not going to utilize the central premise for something more, then perhaps flesh out the characters to make them memorable and interesting. After all, this isn’t a typical siege movie where people are forced to huddle together to get through the night; these folks are together for months. We should know a lot more about them and be invested in them instead of the awkward shorthand we’re given (which seems mostly done to help protect a late-in-the-film twist).

But OK – there’s no secondary level to the proceedings and we’re not given much in the way of real characters to care about (outside of Mina). THAT can be fine too if “The Watchers” at least provides something exciting that piques the curiosity of us viewers. True, authentic characters would increase our investment so that the threat intensifies and seems more pressing—but plenty of filmmakers are capable of introducing suspenseful and/or fun horror sequences with monsters preying on less-than-established people in their movies. Unfortunately, Shyamalan strikes out here, too, by never really creating much tension or terror. In theory, the creature design (in at least one of its forms) is pretty interesting…but it’s never used properly to instill fear (or awe), instead just awkwardly framed and used for a couple lackluster attempts to startle. There’s no creeping dread from these monsters, no sense of claustrophobia from the situation, no palpable sense of despair from finding oneself in such an impossible situation. One sequence is meant to promote a sense of unease when someone possibly shows up at the door, but it’s all undercut by a lack of audience’s actually caring or Shyamalan really highlighting what the consequences are if you mess with these monsters (screaming and getting pulled off screen suddenly isn’t as spooky as she may think it is).

“The Watchers” suffers most in its script, including having multiple endings that feel less like intriguing twists or additions and more like flailing to find something interesting with which to wrap everything up. The actors all acquit themselves well and Shyamalan does get good performances from them (even if the material is subpar). The setting is interesting and it’s cool to investigate Celtic folklore monsters as that’s not a common well for many films these days. What’s particularly egregious is that we’re actually in a time of pretty great Irish horror films that pull a lot from legend—“The Hole in the Ground,” “Caveat,” “The Hallow,” “A Dark Song,” the upcoming “Oddity”—so this feels like a hollow retread of something that’s already being done and being done much better elsewhere. There’s enough talent on display in “The Watchers” for Shyamalan as a director that I’m curious to see what she does next…but I hope that whatever it is, it doesn’t involve a writing credit.

2 / 5 Stars
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Georgina Campbell, Olwen Fouéré, Oliver Finnegan,
Director: Ishana Shyamalan


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