Julia (Maika Monroe) and her husband, Francis (Karl Glusman) arrive in Bucharest and are set up in a fashionable apartment. As Francis throws himself into his work, Julia begins to feel isolated in the strange city and soon begins to believe that she's being watched by someone in an apartment across the street. When a serial killer begins targeting women, Julia's paranoia grows and consumes her, but is she right to suspect the watcher across the street? Or is she simply imagining it all?
In recent years, the topic of female anxiety has been explored onscreen with varying degrees of success. Not surprisingly, the most insightful and acute examples are the ones that are made by women because they know it better than anyone else. In the case of 'Watcher', it's writer-director Chloe Okuno, in her feature debut, taking on isolation leading out from anxiety and the idea of threat and the imagination of threat.
Maika Monroe is no stranger to things following her, what with her star-making role in the horror hit 'It Follows'. Here, she's on similar terrain, playing an actress who's married herself to a generic business bro in Karl Glusman and followed him to a strange city. Like a twisted take on 'Lost In Translation', Monroe wanders the city, looks at the sights, and is generally ill at ease in her surroundings, except Bill Murray doesn't turn up to squire her about the place. Monroe is skilled at bringing out the fear in her character in small but potent doses, never succumbing to obvious tropes or one-note interpretations of anxiety. 'Watcher' and Chloe Okuno's script is too smart to let that happen, but where 'Watcher' falters is how it ultimately becomes kind of predictable.
There's the obvious gaslighting of her surroundings, seeing a face in the shops or the nearby presence of someone, through to contacting the local police who are powerless to do anything and sceptical of her story. The story then takes a turn when Burn Gorman's character is introduced and, again, the story becomes far too obvious for it to be taken anyway seriously. It's a damn shame because the performances for all concerned are very strong and the cinematography and production design really are something. Bucharest takes on a faded beauty of burnt concrete and street lights, caught beautifully by Danish cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen.
For a debut feature, Chloe Okuno clearly has a talent and a vision that's worth sitting up and taking notice of. The limitations in 'Watcher' are turned into strengths, allowing for bolder choices and a strong emphasis on atmosphere and aesthetics. Clearly, Okuno has enough smarts to take ownership of a story like this and put a better spin on it, but 'Watcher' has a plot problem. As soon as a certain character turns up - right in the middle of it - you know it's going to go where it's going to go. Nothing surprises you after that point, even though it's damn pretty to look at.