The Watchers

The Watchers takes place in and around a mysterious building tucked away in the middle of Ireland’s thickest forest. Inside is a table and chair set, an old television, a bed, and a couch. One of the walls is a two-way mirror. Every night, monstrous creatures show up to the front of this building, where they observe the humans inside until dawn. Why? The people have no clue. That set-up offers a lot of possibilities for thrills, some of which the movie brings out and some of which are sadly muted.

The newest occupant of “the Coop” is Mina (Dakota Fanning), a guilt-ridden pet store worker whose car breaks down in that forest while she’s on her way to deliver a bird to its new home. The de facto leader of the group is Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), an older woman who outlines all the rules that need to be followed in order to avoid being killed by the creatures. Also inside are the moody Daniel (Oliver Finnegan) and Ciara (Barbarian’s Georgina Campbell), whose husband tried to escape and never came back.

The feeling of being watched by an unknown person or entity is inherently creepy. The Watchers capitalizes on that by having the characters staring into a mirror. They can hear the “applause” coming from the other side yet only see themselves. If they do something the monsters don’t like, they may hear banging on the glass or pounding on the door. Mina is determined to escape, leading her to take risks, including lowering herself down into one of the burrows where the things hide during daylight hours. Director Ishana Night Shyamalan (daughter of M. Night) nicely stages these sequences to generate suspense.

In fact, the vast majority of what happens in the movie is engaging. From that standpoint, it keeps you hooked. Even the finale is lively enough to distract you from the fact that it’s cramming in a ton of exposition to justify the requisite plot twist. If the characters had as much appeal as the concept’s execution, this would have been a first-rate chiller. But they don’t. Madeline is the designated conveyer of information and not much else. Daniel and Ciara are utterly flat. Those two don’t register at all, making it difficult to care if they become monster food or not.

Fanning does what she can with Mina. The plot gives her a tortured backstory that’s unfortunately present solely to power the conclusion. Nevertheless, the actress’s expressive eyes help her to stand out among the cardboard cutouts. Watching Fanning progress from a child star to an adult star has been interesting. She hasn’t yet found the breakthrough role that would mark her as a next-generation Jodie Foster, but The Watchers proves her capability of carrying a movie, in addition to reaffirming her talent.

As a visual stylist, Ishana Night Shyamalan is a chip off the old block. Like her father’s best work, The Watchers has a creepy ambiance that’s heightened by her framing choices and camera angles. It’s in the screenwriting department that she still needs to grow. Clunky dialogue and thin characterization prevent the otherwise entertaining film from delivering as powerfully as it wants to.

out of four

The Watchers is rated PG-13 for violence, terror, and some thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan