The Watchers Review

The Watchers Review

Ishana Shyamalan takes after her father with a silly twist and some slick cinematography in what is sure to be a divisive film.

PLOT: A young artist gets stranded in an extensive, immaculate forest in western Ireland, where, after finding shelter, she becomes trapped alongside three strangers, stalked by mysterious creatures each night.

REVIEW: There’s no denying that there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on writer/director Ishana Shyamalan with her debut feature. Her father’s reputation will always follow her but let’s not pretend like that’s entirely a bad thing. Unlike many first-time directors, she was able to hone her craft as a 2nd Unit Director on many M Night productions. This allows her to skip some of the steps common for most young filmmakers, and avoid easy trappings. If there’s one thing that’s clear after experiencing The Watchers: we most definitely have two Shyamalans out in the world, for better or worse.

And it goes without saying that I’ll be avoiding spoilers as much as possible in this review as I think the fresher you go into this, the better.

(L-R) Olwen Fouéré, Oliver Finnegan, Dakota Fanning, and Georgina Campbell in The Watchers (2024).

The Watchers follows Mina as she gets lost in the forest and discovers a building harboring three others called The Coop. They claim that there’s something in the forest and if they don’t obey their rules, then the monsters will kill them. The mysterious beings can play visual tricks on them and mess with their minds, making it impossible for anyone who enters the forest to escape. There are some parallels to The Blair Witch Project, with people running around in circles, coming across the same locations repeatedly. That sense of being lost is palpable and each character has a sense of hopelessness.

Having grown up before most of our eyes on screen, there’s a certain familiarity when it comes to any Dakota Fanning character, and here is no exception. Mina manages to feel completely dimensional and work as a great audience surrogate. As frustrating as she can be at times, her behavior is more and more understandable as the narrative progresses. Rarely do I completely come around on a character after they make questionable choices, but it speaks to Fanning’s performance. Barbarian‘s Georgina Campbell is decent as Ciara and I’m happy to see her continue in the horror world. Olwen Fouéré is really starting to make a name for herself in the genre as well. I was also really tickled to see that Darwin the bird was actually voiced by someone. Oliver Finnegan delivers a good performance, but Daniel is a very frustrating character.

One element that I absolutely loved was the rules that the four humans had to follow. I love established rules in horror films because it sets an expectation for the viewer. Follow the rules and nothing bad will happen. We’re privy to the exact line that would cause chaos. So the fact that one of the characters is a perennial rulebreaker, means tension follows her every movement. However, the consequences for being out at night don’t hit quite as hard the further the film progresses. In fact, like most horror films, the more that’s explained, the less scary everything becomes. There are some moments that could be deemed unintentionally hilarious when they’re meant to be scary.

The Watchers (2024).

Based on a book by A.M. Shine and adapted by Ishana, The Watchers is a simple narrative that gets more and more complicated as the seconds tick away. Some may call it convoluted but I really enjoyed how it’s approached. There’s definitely still some sloppiness present in terms of the characters’ decision-making, but it always feels in service to the narrative. Whether it’s explaining the mysterious creatures further or showing us a character trait that will pay off later, everything is done with clear intention. Shyamalan has quite the eye and doesn’t go overboard with CGI or jump scares. There’s a simplicity to her camerawork that I really appreciated as every shot is filled with shadow and depth.

I think like her father’s work, Ishana’s The Watchers is going to be divisive. Either you’re on board for where the story goes or you think it’s stupid. I found myself in the former group and enjoyed the wacky time. There’s a bit of a false ending in the film, and I was rather annoyed when it seemed like that would be how it ended. But then it caps the story off in such a satisfying way that most of my prior annoyances were gone. Yes, the film ends with a twist, so if that’s an element that annoys you about M. Night then you’re in for a disappointment. But if you’re down for some fantastical silliness, there are worse ways to spend your time.



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