‘The Watchers’ is eerie but it fails to make a lasting impression

Georgina Campbell, Dakota Fanning, Oliver Finnegan and Olwen Fouéré in a scene from ‘The Watchers.’ Picture: Instagram.

Georgina Campbell, Dakota Fanning, Oliver Finnegan and Olwen Fouéré in a scene from ‘The Watchers.’ Picture: Instagram.

Published Jun 19, 2024


Ishana Night Shyamalan's "The Watchers" might make you rethink ever stepping foot into the woods again. That said, much of the movie will leave you with more questions than answers.

The daughter of the famed Manoj Nelliyattu "M. Night" Shyamalan makes her directorial debut in this horror, which explores themes of identity and the primal fear of being watched.

Based on A.M. Shine’s novel of the same name, it begins with a gripping prologue that will draw you in as it begins to showcase the director’s talent for creating palpable tension.

“The Watchers” then picks up the pace with scenes of a terrified backpacker desperately attempting to flee the woods but is instead dragged away by an unseen force.

This sets the bar high for the suspense that fans of the genre are anticipating. But much of the plot thereafter fails to gain momentum as it relies on clunky dialogue instead of subtle, show-don’t-tell storytelling.

“The Watchers” centres on Mina, played by Dakota Fanning, a 20 something American living in Galway, Ireland. Burdened by unresolved childhood trauma, she works at a pet shop in the day and, at night, she cosplays in bars to escape her reality.

The renowned actress brings depth to her character, who is haunted by her past and is struggling to find her place in the world.

Her journey to deliver a rare bird lures her to the mystical forest. There she meets an enigmatic professor named Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), who invites her to a modernist building called “The Coop.”

Mina then becomes trapped in this structure, which serves as both a sanctuary and a prison. This adds a layer of intrigue to the movie as it is soon revealed that mysterious entities called “The Watchers” observe those inside it through a mirrored window every night.

In the bunker-like building, she meets Ciara (Georgina Campbell) and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan). And while each actor brings an interesting dynamic to the story, the characters seem to be floating in some scenes and the film also often falls into the trap of heavy-handed explanation.

Shyamalan's direction is at its best in scenes where less is more. She knows that what you can’t see is scarier than what you do.

A prime example of this is when the group inside “The Coop” are forced to stand at the attention of “The Watchers,” who linger on the other side of the glass - a moment which is both stylishly directed and intensely creepy.

The first part of the movie is beautifully filmed and the cinematography is thoughtful, with clever and striking mirrored shots.

Mirrors, as seem in many horror films, create visual illusion that play with the audience's perception of reality. This distortion can heighten suspense and create an eerie atmosphere, which is perfect for building tension in horror scenes.

Dakota Fanning in a scene of ‘The Watchers.’ Picture: Instagram.

But "The Watchers" fails to adequately explore its compelling themes around identity and fear.

The film is a blend of psychological horror and a creature feature, complete with unsettling body language and chilling eye contact that will have you fearing for the characters at many points.

It can be compared to the "SAW" and the “Twilight” movies with its mind-bending plot twists and claustrophobic atmosphere, which is enhanced by the terrifying setting of the dense and inescapable forest.

But it can linger with no real purpose and by the time it attempts to provide some answers, even more questions follow.

It can often be a frustrating watch and it lacks a sense of underlying dread or urgency, which is essential for any decent horror film.

The audience is left to piece parts of the plot together after tension has already been built up.

We don’t get any memorable insights into how this world came to be, why the creatures treat its humans as pets for entertainment, the effectiveness of the escape plan or what happens to the characters after they leave the forest.

At the very least, "The Watchers" is hair-raising. But it should have delved deeper into the storyline and provided more insight into its complicated characters.