Let’s say you’re thinking about writing a thriller for the screen. Naturally you’ll first consult Alfred Hitchcock, who can be counted on to employ all the tropes and add a few of his originals to strengthen the tension, like the MacGuffin.
Your updated paradigm is in your theaters now: Watcher. Set in Bucharest, it employs as many formulaic elements as possible in its 91 minutes, e.g., a simple one: the gun that first appears early on and then later on. More as I attend to themes and character arcs.
Julia (Maika Monroe) is an attractive blonde (think The Birds or Psycho) accompanying her husband, Francis (Karl Glusman), to Romania for his new job, won because he knows the language. Her not knowing it, and he speaking it with colleagues in front of her when they know English, is an isolating touch for a lady who is lonely from her arrival. The indolent wife in these thrillers can be vulnerable with nothing to do but wander the streets.
Early on she believes a man is watching her from a window across the way (think Rear Window) and following her when she is out and about. As in so many thrillers, no one believes her, and writer/director Chloe Okuno does a smooth job setting the audience to disbelief as well. Not that this weak spot for a heroine is so unusual—think of the number of candidates like Condoleezza Rice and Amber Heard. (Nevertheless, Julia’s loneliness could have been remedied by having her work but then no thriller)
The plot runs apace as Julia makes a friend, Ellen, who lives alone and is equally vulnerable. Possible stalkers appear while Julia becomes more paranoid with each encounter, until . . . . Well, I won’t tell.
Yes, there’s a bird’s eye shot at the head of the stairs (think Vertigo) and a MacGuffin in the form of a serial killer who may or may not be Julia’s watcher. And on and on with the thriller staples, yet so well done as to make you think you’re seeing it all for the first time.
The lonely spouse and the over-worked husband are a breeding ground for paranoia. Women being stalked is a thriller commonplace. Watcher builds on this formula to create a sense of dislocation not just in Bucharest; it’s everywhere.
Watcher is a congenial date that’s not too bloody or scary but just real enough to keep the aud thinking, “It could be me.”
Director: Chloe Okuno (Slut)
Cast: Maika Monroe (The Guest)
Run Time: 1h 31m
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com