Maika Monroe attracted the attention of cinema audiences in 2014 with a double whammy of excellent turns in creepy horror It Follows and neon-synth flick The Guest. Since then, she’s largely been relegated to supporting parts, but returns to centre stage for Watcher, the feature debut of writer and director Chloe Okuno. The psychological thriller follows Julia (Monroe) who moves to Bucharest with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) when he lands a new job. He speaks the language thanks to his Romanian family roots, but she begins to feel isolated, and is unnerved when she spots a man in the building opposite who appears to be looking into their apartment.
A homage of sorts to Hitchcockian mystery, this plays a little like a reversed Rear Window, with the protagonist on the receiving end of the unwanted surveillance. The inspired choice of location, Nathan Halpern’s stirring score, and nifty direction from Okuno really enhances Julia’s lingering loneliness. With foreign conversations going on around her, she becomes increasingly unsure of what to believe and who she can trust. As the plot develops, the script digs into how the invasion of privacy affects her marriage, as Francis’ cruel, dismissive gaslighting carries us into a shocking final act.
Aesthetically, Julia very much fits the archetypal ‘Hitchcock blonde’ mould; she even wears a red dress in a pivotal scene, symbolising a sense of threat or danger to further the visual nod to the aforementioned style. Maika Monroe delivers a terrific performance, and her nuanced emotional journey forms the entire driving force of the story. She has the likeability of her previous roles, making her an easy heroine to root for, but this feels like a more mature, complex performance which thematically illustrates a powerful societal reflection. In a small supporting turn, British actor Burn Gorman plays very much to his type, but as an Eastern European version of the creepy menace we’ve seen him portray on screen time and time again.
A strangely refreshing take on the gaslighting thriller sub-genre, the simplicity of the narrative beats only amplify their truthful impact. Watcher is suspenseful, subversive, and smartly conceived; an almost anti-mystery thriller, signalling writer and director Chloe Okuno as one to watch.