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'The Watchers' review: Supernatural horror books a front row seat to observe Dakota Fanning

Dakota Fanning tapping a mirrored glass surface
Warner Bros. Pictures

Maybe we were the real watchers all along as we watched the watched being watched by those known as watchers. Huh. As you can tell, heads may be spinning in one way or another when you watch The Watchers, which is also a feature debut for its writer-director Ishana Night Shyamalan. In this supernatural horror based on A. M. Shine's novel of the same name, we begin to follow Dakota Fanning's character Mina, an American pet store employee living in Galway, Ireland, who gets tasked to deliver a parrot out of town. But things take a turn when Mina's car breaks down and she becomes stranded in a creepy forest right before the sunset. After running into an older lady named Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), Mina seeks shelter in a bunker with her, Ciara (Georgina Campbell) and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan), only to find out that at night, the bunker is surrounded by mystical creatures that leave no one alive outside of it.

Shyamalan more or less makes a splash here with her direction as the collaboration with cinematographer Eli Arenson invites you into a moody and dynamic space once Mina gets trapped in this awful situation with only strangers keeping her company. There's a fairly strong sense of foreboding mixed with some horror that draws from folklore and just the general idea of Mina having to face something that is unknown and wants to possibly devour her. The direction gets a bit blurry later—particularly in the second half of the movie—as far as Mina's coping with loss and regret goes, but the build-up during the first half can be suitably intense and horrid thanks to some excellent sound design*, which rattles you to your bones in a fun way.

What is less fun and impressive is Shyamalan's moment in the spotlight as a writer since how the storytelling evolves is often quite horrifying in the worst way possible. Fanning starts the movie with plenty of awkward dialogue to sell but the problems with it just keep getting bigger when more players get added into a mix and characters have to talk to each other in order to survive and find ways to escape. It's actually rather astonishing how nearly every single line somehow underlines the emptiness of these four characters while also managing to sound extremely robotic and emotionless, as if they have been stuck in this bunker their entire lives without ever talking to another person. Such hollowness is ultimately the reason why the film becomes a chore to get through as the story just keeps dragging on (the film has about eight endings, too) and the performances headlined by the unfortunate Fouéré become worse and worse in the process.

Fanning does a decent job as the lead and the horror elements become a tad weirder than you'd expect but it's not enough to hide the fact that the human stories and feelings in the centre of it all are deeply chaotic at best. There's likely a marginally better, perhaps even watchable 80-minute claustrophobic horror hidden somewhere in The Watchers, but as it stands, it's a rather tedious and frustrating effort.

Smileys: Sound design

Frowneys: Dialogue, characterisation

That parrot was actually one of the birds in the dating show as well.


[*Editor's note: Apologies for the image quality and possible inaccurate or insufficient credits. Warner Bros. Pictures didn't provide high-quality stills or proper information about the film before the publication of this review.]

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