Maika Monroe as ‘Julia’ in Chloe Okuno’s WATCHER | ©2022 IFC Films

Maika Monroe as Julia in Chloe Okuno’s WATCHER | ©2022 IFC Midnight

Rating: R
Stars: Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Burn Gorman, Madalina Anea
Writer: Chloe Okuno, based on the screenplay by Zack Ford
Director: Chloe Okuno
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Release Date: June 3, 2022

WATCHER is a thriller that is set and shot in Bucharest, Romania. Director/writer Chloe Okuno, adapting a screenplay by Zack Ford, makes the most of everything about the city, knowing most of her audience will find it as new and mysterious as does the protagonist.

This is Julia (Maika Monroe). As a New Yorker, she’s a stranger in a strange land here, unfamiliar with the country and trying (with very slow success) to learn the language.

Julia has accompanied her marketing executive husband Francis (Karl Glusman) to Romana after he’s accepted a job promotion. Francis is American, but his mother is Romanian; he is fluent in the language and knows his way around.

The new apartment has enormous windows. The scenic view, alas, is just of the building across the street. Julia becomes aware that someone appears to be consistently watching her from that building.

Julia’s awareness becomes alarm when it seems the man (Burn Gorman) has followed her first to a movie theatre, then to the supermarket. Both Francis and a local police officer are inclined to put Julia’s fears down to misunderstanding, boredom turned hysteria, or both. Only new friend Irina (Madalina Anea) takes Julia’s concerns seriously.

Trying to get proof of what her instincts tell her, Julia begins observing the neighbor. This makes Julia a watcher herself. At the same time, Bucharest is being terrorized by a serial killer/rapist dubbed the Spider.

Credit is due to Okuno that, just for starters, she makes it credible to us that Julia goes out alone, even with this threat around. In this, the filmmaker has a powerful partner in Monroe, who quietly provides insight into Julia’s emotions and thought processes. The performer is restrained, but she has an expressive face that conveys a great deal.

Gorman likewise manages to be ambiguous and highly unnerving by employing stillness and a seldom-raised voice.

Okuno uses space and darkness to illustrate Julia’s isolation. The filmmaker also plants some sturdy clues and at least one topnotch mislead, where what first seems to be a continuity error actually indicates character strategy.

WATCHER is reminiscent of some old-school thrillers, where atmosphere takes precedence over story. Indeed, every time we perceive that a plot twist may be coming, we find ourselves mistaken.

WATCHER goes exactly where it appears to be going, which may make it a bit of a slow burn for some viewers. However, on reflection, Okuno is being faithful to the concept. In real life, like Julia, many people would have the same set of reactions to the possibility of danger from a barely-seen stranger. Incredulity, curiosity, and doubt would all come before fear, and Okuno and Monroe give each of these their due.

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