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(The 2022 Sundance Film Festival runs January 20-30 all virtually. Check out Bears Rebecca Fonté’s movie review of WatcherLike what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

Just like Liam Neeson keeps getting relatives taken, Maika Monroe keeps getting gaslit. No one believed her when she said Dan Stevens was not a good person, no one believed her when she had some strange entity following her because somebody gave her an STD, and now nobody believes her that’s some creepy guy is watching her and following her all around Bucharest.

The film is Watcher, the directorial debut of Chloe Okuno, and the story is simple. Julia (Monroe) has come to Romania with her husband who has gotten a promotion and has been moved from America to the Bucharest office. Forget that that doesn’t sound like a promotion, for Francis (Karl Glusman) it is an opportunity to go home and bring his wife with him. Neither member of the couple seems too concerned that Julia has nothing to do here in the city and does not speak the language. As she toils away her days, she begins to notice that there is a man across the street who always seems to be watching her from his window. Later he is there in the cinema and again in the grocery store. Unfortunately for Julia everybody just seems to think she is hysterical, despite the fact that there is a serial killer making headlines in town.

Watcher benefits from the urban decay of a seldom shot city, one which cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen lenses with precision and ingenuity. There were several times during the film I thought to myself ‘I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that shot before’ – which is a little off-putting for the flow but works quite well when you realize that you’re often getting the perspective of someone watching our lead character. Also perfectly setting the tone of the film is composer Nathan Halpern’s score which fills the spaces of silence naturally created by someone alone in the city with both tension and beauty. If the argument of the film is whether or not someone is truly following Julia, then the score at least sides with her and lets us know there is danger ahead.

Throughout the film Julia must remain voiceless. Countless conversations drone on in Romanian in front of Julia, something she cannot take part in. Even her complaint to the police must be delivered partially through her husband’s interpreting. When she is forced to explain what she is experiencing she can’t really effectively put it to words and create the same tension that we have witnessed. But the more people discount what she saw, the easier it becomes as an audience to write off the danger. It’s a masterful manipulation of the audience from director Okuno who knows just how and when to pull our conclusions as the plot demands. The final silencing of Julia comes in the film’s climax when the watcher cuts her vocal cord. Her husband may be in the next apartment, but she can’t even raise her voice to call him to her attention.

Of course, none of this film would work if it wasn’t for a frantic feat of performance from Maika Monroe to rival Ingrid Bergman herself. With minimal dialogue and situation after situation where basically the same thing happens, Monroe always manages to find a new level or tactic to play. And our second MVP would have to go to Burn Gorman, who plays the watcher with the same static creep that I saw first in The Hour. Casting someone as distinctive as Gorman basically dares the audience to jump to a different conclusion then their initial one. As for Julia, she was right to be suspicious immediately, and even more right when she started to pack her bag and get away from her inconsiderate husband.

Watcher plays as part of the US Dramatic Competition section at Sundance 2022.

– Bears Rebecca Fonté (@BearsFonte)

Sundance 2022; Watcher movie review; Chloe Okuno

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Bears Rebecca Fonté is a transgender filmmaker, festival programmer, and journalist. She founded Other Worlds Film Festival after two years as the Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival. Her SciFi shorts ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE, PRENATAL, and THE SECRET KEEPER have played 150+ festivals including Fantasia, SciFi London, Boston SciFi, FilmQuest, Austin Film Festival and Dances With Films. Her LGBTQIA Horror short CONVERSION THERAPIST made its world premiere at Inside Out in Toronto and US Premiere at aGLIFF. Her feature thriller iCRIME, which she wrote and directed, was released on DVD, VOD and streaming by Breaking Glass/Vicious Circle Films in 2011. Bears Rebecca also was one of the producers on the Sundance Jury-Award Winning short THE PROCEDURE. In 2021, after five years on the Board of Directors she was made Artistic Director of aGLIFF, the oldest Queer film festival in the Southwest.

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