There are words used to describe movies I prefer not to use. Lynchian, for example, or Hitchcockian. Those are terms that lazily describe a movie within a certain sub-genre without saying much of anything of substance.
Yet, sometimes one has to break one’s own rules: Watcher is Hitchcockian. Maybe that is a lazy way to describe it, but it’s also apt. It’s a movie I could have seen the Master of Horror himself direct sometime during his Rear Window period. Not a substantial description, I know, but you get the idea.
Watcher is ostensibly a thriller, though it could equally be described as a study of loneliness. Julia (Maika Monroe) has moved to Bucarest, Romania, with her boyfriend Francis (Karl Glusman), who has taken a job there. Francis speaks Romanian, while Julia does not, meaning her prospects of getting a job are slim. As Francis sets into his daily routine, Julia tries to fill her days to the best of her ability in a place with no friends and a serious language barrier.
All the while, a serial killer is killing women in the vicinity of Julia and Francis’ apartment. And as Julia walks through the streets of Bucarest, she is convinced neighbor from across the street (Burn Gorman) has started stalking her. Seemingly, he watches her from his apartment window at night.
Or is it all in the mind of a lonely person in a foreign place who is slipping into paranoia?
That Julia is in some state of depression is at least clear. Her impending paranoia is exacerbated when the one person she has managed to connect with—the fun-loving next-door neighbor—disappears. Of course, it’s entirely possible that also is not the case—after all, she does have a history of taking off for extended periods.
Watcher can feel as disorienting as Julia feels in the streets of Romania. It seems plausible that her perceived stalker is just someone as lonely as her who happens to walk around the same streets she does. On the other hand, the murders are real, and the movie has little interest in giving too much exposition away at any one time. It’s an unsettling slow burn.
The whole cast turns in solid performances, with the great Burn Gorman adding a layer of gravitas. (Gorman is a Guillermo del Toro regular and also had a memorable appearance in “Flowers for Charlie,” a classic It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode.)
For some, Watcher might be a little too slow, but with some patience, you’ll find a tense thriller with a surprisingly bombastic conclusion. Downright Hitchcockian, some might say.