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Review: The Watchers (2024)

The Watchers (2024)

Directed by: Ishana Shyamalan

Premise: A woman (Dakota Fanning) becomes stranded in a cabin in the woods with three strangers. They spend their nights sheltering from creatures that observe them through a large window. 

What Works: The Watchers is not quite a horror picture, more of a dark fantasy, but it has some effectively creepy images. The characters discover burrows where the supernatural creatures hide during the day and the sequences in which these people explore the tunnels are quite tense. The moviemakers don’t actually show us very much but that restraint works in the movie’s favor. It adds some mystery to the scenario and the filmmakers use sound to create the impression of the creature’s presence. The conceit of The Watchers plays as a PG-13 version of The Evil Dead; a group of people are trapped in a cabin in the woods where they barricade themselves from a mostly unseen supernatural force and discover a professor’s papers that explain the nature of the evil. Unlike The Evil Dead, The Watchers is well adjusted to the teen market and that’s who will probably get the most out of it. The Watchers plays as a gateway horror picture, the kind of movie that will get younger and inexperienced viewers interested in the genre.

What Doesn’t: The Watchers creates a few creepy images but on the whole it’s not very frightening. The story lacks a sense of conflict. The characters are stranded in the cabin and they want to get out but there is little escalation or stakes. The strangers sheltering in the cabin have some interpersonal conflicts but it’s all rather muted. Dakota Fanning’s character is transporting an exotic bird to a zoo. Caring for that bird and getting the animals to its new home could be a source of motivation and personal stakes but the filmmakers don’t do much with that and the bird disappears from the narrative for extended periods. There is a very late exposition dump in which the characters inexplicably become experts in mythology and interpret signs and artwork to reveal an elaborate backstory. The exposition doesn’t really clarify anything and it hurts the pacing. The story comes to an organic conclusion but then keeps going. The coda sequence feels tagged on. The immediate conflict is resolved and this just prolongs the picture without adding much value.

Bottom Line: The Watchers is a middling effort. Director Ishana Shyamalan is a promising filmmaker but this film is hobbled by a story that struggles to create and maintain tension and loses its way in the ending.

Episode: #1000 (June 16, 2024)