Film review: Watcher - American couple living in Bucharest faces the terror of a local serial killer
A couple moves to a new place in a new country and a new continent. Unbeknownst to them, the place is beset with the presence of a creepy local serial killer called "The Spider". The girlfriend carefully watches him every day, but the boyfriend is too naive to believe her - a classic humdrum horror plot. But Watcher is so much more than that.
It is a modern-day feminist take on Alfred Hitchcock's 1954's Rear Window that pays homage to the classic slow-burn horror technique. The Chloe Okuno-directed psycho-thriller flick, which had its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival earlier in January 2022, offers authenticity in the forms of visuals, sound design, and build-up suspense, diluted in a well-executed terror that ends in a grueling conclusion.
Watcher is the story of Julia (Maika Monroe) and her half-Romanian husband, Francis (Karl Gusman), as they move to Bucharest to take a marketing job there. She befriends Irina (Madalina Anea) and tries to catch up with the language but feels disoriented along the way and her paranoia goes over the roof after repeatedly catching a man (Burn Gorman) staring at her from the other side of the window creepily.
Unlike her husband, who speaks Romanian and drowns himself in work almost every day, Julia is left alone in her own world, giving up her acting career just to relocate with him to the new, mysterious country. Her frustration is the core of the movie. Julia always finds herself asking her husband, "What did he say? What did she say?" every time his friends come along and utters a sentence or two in Romanian - an emotional disintegration that many foreigners feel. She's lost, disintegrated, anxious, sleepless, and cornered - an emotional rollercoaster that Okuno puts on the audience as well by removing subtitles every time a Romanian word is uttered.
Monroe gets the job done and embodies this character as tragically beautiful.
In this film, it's not the "Spider" killer that brutally murders innocent women that provokes goosebumps. He is just another face in the crowd who easily fools the police with his foolish-looking face. Nor its authentic and meticulous Romanian atmosphere (babushka looking for her missing cat, locals trying to teach you cursing words & their everyday conversation, even the communist-style apartment buildings around the corner) that not almost English-speaking media gets to nail perfectly (looking at you, Resident Evil: Village - "ciorba de legum"? Come on.)
It is the uncertainty, the feeling of isolation, and the over-the-roof anxiety that set the mind dilly-dallying on forbidden areas that shouldn't be explored. It's a complex story of how far one could go in an extreme and tense situation, and Okuno's riveting directorial debut wonderfully entertains that notion.
(Photo: IFC Films, AGC International)