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The Watchers Wastes its Intriguing Premise and Squanders its Potential

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Iain McParland
| June 12, 2024
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I was drawn in by the excellent trailer for The Watchers. It looked tense, fascinating, and frightening.

The feature directorial debut from Ishana Shyamalan (yes, THAT Shyamalan. She is M. Night Shyamalan’s daughter), The Watchers starts out strong, providing intrigue and nail-biting moments, a mystery you are interested in solving but are too scared to investigate. It had so much promise.

By the end of the movie, I was bored, the villains evoking as much fear as the small Stay Puft Marshmallow men, and the ending could be telegraphed from a mile away, reducing the impact of the “twist.” 

Like father, like daughter. 

Story

Mina (Dakota Fanning) is a young woman haunted by her past. An American living in Galway, Ireland and working in a pet store, she is given the job of transporting a rare and beautiful yellow bird to a zoo in Belfast, Northern Ireland. When her GPS takes her through some creepy woods, she gets stranded. That’s what you get when you don’t update your map software for 3 years!

The trees swallow her whole (metaphorically), and she cannot find her way out. Even worse, though, is that there are bears in these woods. Figurative bears. They’re actually nocturnal monsters who will kill you if you wander through the forest at night.

That is, unless you let them watch you. Deep in the woods, there exists a small shelter with a viewing window; interrogation room style. They can see you, but you can’t see them. Honestly, I think that’s for the best…

The Good

Weirdest stage show ever!

On the first night in the woods, Mina discovers the coop, the small shelter with the large viewing window, housing three other people. Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), a former history professor and the de facto leader of the group; Daniel (Oliver Finnegan), a young man with impulse control issues; and Ciara (Georgina Campbell), the wife of the guy who bites it in the opening (or does he?). These characters are interesting and varied, and the interactions between these strange bedfellows are excellent and compelling at times. 

But at times, it’s also cringy and unrealistic. 

The opening scene was pretty damn cool. A man is running through the woods, trying to find his way out. It’s starting to get dark, and he’s very anxious. Just before the sun sets, he starts to panic and about turns to head back where he came from. Birds freak out. The man freaks out. Something is lurking in the darkness. ARRRRGHHHH NO! NO! NOOOOOO! Classic setting of the scene. 

Then, when we are re-introduced to the woods after Mina’s arrival, there’s a sense of mystery, tension and urgency, knowing the night is not a good time. It does a really good job at the build of horror. Mina and her cohorts are trapped in a cage with monsters glaring in, watching from a distance. The anticipation from inactivity was well executed at the beginning of the film. 

The scene where Mina and Madeline are stuck outside at night had me on the edge of my seat, but unfortunately, this was short-lived and culminated with a whimper. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if it’s accurate, but, damn, that sucked. 

The Not So Good

Yeahhhhh, nahhhhh

For all I liked the performances of the coop gang, their characters make stupid, nonsensical decisions. You could say they’re becoming desperate and erratic, but they also sometimes act against their core character traits. It’s a staple of the horror genre, but when there’s a creepy sign saying “Point of No Return,” and you walk past that sign, at that point it’s on you if you get murdered. Daniel also makes strange choices, taking measures in opposition to the rules he usually abides by for no obvious reason and ultimately putting himself in danger multiple times. 

You didn’t have to be a psychic to be able to predict how the movie would end. I won’t spoil anything, but the pacing of the story seemed to be so far off the mark that it telegraphed the conclusion. There was no SURPRISE MOTHERF***ER moment that made me sit up and take notice. Disappointingly, it fell flat.

The timing of the exposition dumps and revelations was weird, too. Three or four times during the movie, the plot seemed to pause for someone to talk through backstory. And in the times when a pause wasn’t taken, revelations occurred in inopportune moments when the characters should be too terrified to have coherent conversations. 

Overall, the movie was paced poorly, which was to its detriment. 

Summary

It’s like you’re my mirror WOAHOH WOAHOH My mirror’s staring back at me

F*@k, this could have been so good. 

That’s where my disappointment stems from. I can’t imagine the author of the book on which this is based, A. M. Shine, is happy with the finished product. I mean, great, he’s had his book optioned for a movie, but this can’t have been his vision for the project.

The setup was great, and until about 30 minutes in, I was optimistic. But Shyamalan wastes the good groundwork, culminating in a dull, dreary movie with a predictable ending. I’m a jumpy person and, although I love horror films, I’m easily scared. Aside from a jumpscare in the first few minutes, I was largely unmoved by The Watchers

Whether it was the timing of the exposition, the monsters’ aura, or the story in general, something didn’t work. It’s a damn shame for such a solid opening and intriguing idea.

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