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MOVIE REVIEW: Over-reliant on dialogue, ‘The Watchers’ offers tepid scares and a flat story

Check out the latest movie review featuring Dakota Fanning in "The Watchers". Discover if her performance shines in this thrilling tale set in the eerie Irish forests. Read on for Wanggo's insights.

Despite the lush Irish forests as its backdrop and a rather cinematic bunker in the middle of the woods as the setting of this horror film, ‘The Watchers‘ quickly loses any of its mystery and appeal because of first-time feature film director and screenwriter Ishana Night Shyamalan’s inability to wrestle with the film’s massive lore. Based on the book by A. M. Shine, ‘The Watchers’ prefers to keep things hidden; allowing the dread to stem from what we don’t know. This only last for as long as the fear is constant, the characters we’re following are engaging, and the film points out to something bigger. 

But that’s not what happens here in the film.

‘The Watchers’ is about an American, Mina (played by Dakota Fanning), who is living in Ireland and running from her past. When her boss at the pet store she works in asks her to drive to another city to deliver an expensive bird to the zoo, then she finds herself lost in an enchanted forest where she cannot find her way out. There she discovers what is called “The Coop.” It is a bunker in the middle of the forest where she is taken in by its current inhabitants – Madeline (Olwen Fouere), Ciara (Georgina Campbell), and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan) – and they tell her the rules to survive because out in the woods, when the sun goes down, the Watchers come and they will kill her if she’s not in the bunker by sundown.

All the elements are there to create an engaging story. Who are the watchers and what are they? There are rules to stay alive and, of course, Mina tries to break them because she refuses to be stuck there like everybody else. As some rules are broken, the four are put into danger. How will they get out? What do the watchers want? The list goes on.

But the moment the initial curiosity has set in, the film takes on a very by-the-numbers pace that slows everything down. While the rules are explained and while Mina tries to break them to find her way out, there’s no real sense of danger that sticks. Mina’s backstory is kept hidden from us until halfway through the movie, so we don’t feel that connected to her. It doesn’t help that Fanning, as good an actress as she is, is asked to be guarded and reserved. She’s put a distance between her and everybody in the film so she’s not the kind of lead character an audience can easily warm up to.

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Madeline plays out as the older, wise woman character-trope, whose backstory I figured out quite quickly as the answers to the questions start pouring out by the third quarter of the film. Ciara and Daniel are functional but don’t have much to do to make you feel for them in any real way.

What makes the film even less scary is that all the important answers to the questions the film inevitably sets up by its premise is answered through a huge info dump in the third quarter of the movie. They learn the lore of the watchers in one big go that the already languid, tepid pace of the film is even stunted further. And regardless of how you feel about the revelation, without the mystery, the narrative starts to fall flat. What else is there to do now?

I can imagine what this narrative might be like in the form of a book. When you’re reading this story in the comfort of your home and taking the pace that you want, the story can work. The prose can cover up the variety of new information that happens near the end of the story. But for a film, as you near the end, you want the film to go faster to start moving towards its climax but instead ‘The Watchers’ ends up slowing down further to explain.

This has always been the problem of what some people call ‘the mystery box’ narrative. This is the trouble Ishana Night Shyamalan is struggling with in this film.

Once the big struggle is done, the film enters its resolution and then another twist is revealed (like father like daughter, because, yes, she is the daughter of M. Night Shyamalan). It is a twist I saw coming the moment the big info dump has occurred and the sad part is, at the film’s final conflict, it is once again done via dialogue. ‘The Watchers’ starts well with an interesting premise, but it does not keep up with all its elements as the film unfolds. If anything, this is a streaming movie for a dead weekend.

My Rating:



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