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  • Writer's pictureBen Pivoz

The Watchers


Ciara (Georgina Campbell), Mina (Dakota Fanning), Daniel (Oliver Finnegan) and Madeline (Olwen Fouéré) stand for inspection by some mysterious creatures in The Watchers (Distributed by Warner Bros.)

M. Night Shyamalan is known for his twisty thrillers. It has brought him a lot of fame, as well as a lot of criticism. His next creation, Trap, comes out in August so, while we wait for that, we get his latest credit as a producer. It is the moody, sort of creepy, Irish folklore-based, The Watchers, which happens to be the big screen writing/directing debut of his daughter, Ishana Night Shyamalan.


Though there will definitely be comparisons to her father’s work, not entirely unwarranted in this case, Ishana has made an occasionally effective thriller in her own right. It has a good premise, a strong sense of tone and Ishana understands how terrifying the unknown can be. The movie itself isn’t particularly scary, and the final act dissipates the tension in an unsatisfying way, but the setup, unsettling location and pacing went a long way in keeping my attention.


Based on the 2022 novel by A.M. Shine, The Watchers (95 minutes, without the end credits) follows Mina, a young American woman living in Ireland. While driving through the forest, her car breaks down. Looking for help, she stumbles upon three people who inform her that she is now stuck there with them, in a small shelter with a two-way mirror that some dangerous creatures use to observe them every night. Can Mina figure out how to escape? Or will they all be trapped there forever?


This is a lot more interesting in terms of atmosphere than it is in terms of character. While Mina gets several scenes of backstory, they don’t add up to a whole lot. A tragic incident in her past gives the screenplay the chance to use guilt in her arc, yet it is almost completely unrelated to how she behaves throughout the story. If the movie had opened with her on her way toward the forest, nothing significant would have been lost and we would have been spared the clunky opening scenes. The other three major characters are handled more sparsely, adding to the mood.

Though the forest isn’t fully explored, the central location (dubbed “the coop”) is about as unsettling as it needed to be. It is a small structure whose most prominent feature is a mirror taking up one wall, that can be seen through from the opposite side. There are many shots of the four characters lined up in front of it so that the mysterious watchers can look at them. That material is legitimately unnerving. What is happening? What are those things? What do they want with these people? A few characters stuck in an area they are unable to safely leave, surrounded by questions the screenplay teases its audience with. When The Watchers sticks to that it is at least mildly compelling.


The bulk of the story, beginning with Mina getting lost, is engaging, if pretty slight. Her discovering the predicament she is in, learning the rules of survival and trying to uncover the secret of the watchers verges on captivating at times. Unfortunately, the movie starts to lose any hold it has when the questions get answered. The final act feels arbitrary and anticlimactic, with a “twist” that is obvious early on (not necessarily a problem) and dealt with in a very dull way (absolutely a problem).


Ishana Night Shyamalan has an eye for shot composition and a decent control of tone/pacing. The middle section of The Watchers is kind of good. If it opened and closed stronger, and maintained its tension once the reveals began, this would be an easy recommendation. As is, it is somewhere in between. A serviceable thriller where the positive and the negative just about cancel each other out.

 

3 out of 5

           

Cast:

Dakota Fanning as Mina

Georgina Campbell as Ciara

Olwen Fouéré as Madeline

Oliver Finnegan as Daniel

 

Written/Directed by Ishana Night Shyamalan

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