directed by Chloe Okuna
starring Maika Monroe, Burn Gorman, Karl Glusman, Mandelina Anea
Chloe Okuna’s Watcher drops the audience into the isolated and frightening world of its protagonist Julia (Maika Monroe) as she and her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) take a jetlagged taxi ride to their new life in Romania. Her isolation is immediately evident through her lack of familiarity with the new language and total dependence on her husband to translate, an important responsibility he clearly takes lightly as he deliberately mistranslates the cabbie’s compliment into an insult, as a joke. Gaslighting through translation is a new twist on a trope.
Julia, lost in a world of languages and customs she doesn’t understand, begins to let paranoia seep into her brain as she imagines that a man (Burn Gorman) in an apartment across the street is watching her from his window. Her suspicions are shrugged off by her husband and basically every man she voices her concerns to. Everyone, police included, are dismissive of Julia, even though there is a murderous rapist at work in the city. The only person who takes her seriously is Julia’s exotic dancer neighbor, Irena (Mandelina Anea).
The entire film is told from Julia’s point of view. We only see and know what she does, when she does. In Julia’s utter isolation, we as the audience are being gaslit and must struggle through the doubts right along with our heroine.
Adding to the sense of disassociation is the copious amount of short focal length, rendering the world in an out-of-focus haze that becomes unnerving as she (and we) grapple with reality. There are many sequences where the background is a total blur, and we are forced to focus only on what the director wants us to see. The blur hides as much menace as the dark.
The isolation manifests in Julia being reliant on translators. Okuna gives no quarter on this as there are no subtitles, so unless you cheat and already speak Romanian, you also have no idea what is being said around, to, or about her. When her husband casually betrays her with an uncaring joke at Julia’s expense, she becomes aware that she has absorbed enough Romanian to get the gist of what he said. He tries to apologize, but realizes his only defense is he thought she couldn’t understand what he was saying, solidifying his betrayal and sending Julia into a living nightmare.
This is a film that covers a lot of familiar ground. If you’re looking for a lot of twists and surprises you’re likely going to be disappointed, but if you love films that are all about the journey, focusing (or not) on the little details, you’ll be enthralled and may even be talking back to the screen in the film’s final moments.