It really is no surprise that Julia (Maika Monroe) isn’t happy. She’s followed her husband to Bucharest but can’t speak the language. He has a job in marketing, but she has only memories of a career in acting. She gave it up, just like she gave up smoking. It’s not easy giving up smoking. It’s like letting go of a part of you—maybe your favorite part. I bet Julia feels the same way about acting.
So what does Julia do in this foreign city with no friends, family, or English-language television to watch? She worries. She worries that the sounds coming from her neighbor (Madalina Anea) are suspicious, that the creep in the apartment building across the street and one floor up is watching her day and night, and that the serial killer going around the city decapitate women might be that creep. The press has dubbed him “The Spider,” and Julia willingly falls into his trap out of sheer boredom.
Boredom does make your brain connect the dots in weird ways, but Julia’s zero to sixty fixation on the brown-shoed creep in the window (Burn Gorman) is one of those movie moments you either get behind or don’t. Sure, he shows up at the cinema, at the supermarket, and around the neighborhood at very odd moments, but as Julia’s husband, Francis (Karl Glusman), points out, he lives across the street.
Beyond her gut, Julia doesn’t have much to go off. Which explains why no one really takes her seriously, and that might be the point to director Chloe Okuno’s Watcher. Okuno and co-writer Zack Ford get behind Julia lock, stock, and barrel. They know how frustrating life can be when basic communication is just beyond your grasp. Francis speaks Romanian fluently—it’s why they’re here in the first place—and even a simple joke feels like a betrayal to Julia.
Monroe is good in Watcher, and cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen brings an eerie feeling of just barely not being able to make out certain details. The only real problem is that everything here feels familiar. Not derivative, per se, but well-tread. Watcher is engaging, I’ll give it that, but a couple more twists and red herrings here and there, and now we’re talking.
Directed by Chloe Okuno
Written by Zack Ford, Chloe Okuno
Produced by Derek Dauchy, John Finemore, Aaron Kaplan, Roy Lee, Mason Novick, Sean Perrone, Steven Schneider
Starring: Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Burn Gorman, Madalina Anea
Not yet rated, Running time 91 minutes, Premiered at the virtual Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 21, 2022.