Watchers, The (United States/Ireland, 2024)

June 09, 2024
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Watchers, The Poster

The Watchers, the feature debut of director Ishana Night Shyamalan, has the goods to assemble a compelling trailer. Sadly, it lacks the goods to make a compelling movie. With an uneven tone, a poorly constructed narrative, cheesy dialogue, stilted acting, and a lack of genuine scares, the movie fails on almost every level as a horror/mystery combo. The only thing it has going for it is that Shyamalan does a good job fashioning a sense of the ominous…but it’s in service of a production that needs a lot more than that.

The story, based on a novel by A.M. Shine, transpires in a secluded forest in Ireland where a group of four people – Madeline (Olwen Fouere), Ciara (Georgina Campbell), Daniel (Oliver Finnegan), and John (Alistair Brammer) – are holed up in a building referred to as “The Coop.” In a prologue, John attempts flight but is tracked down by inhuman creatures, later identified as “The Watchers,” that inhabit the forest. Because the monsters only come out at night, the humans have a degree of freedom when the sun is above the horizon, but the edges of the forest are too far away to be reached in a day’s travel so their only hope is to return to The Coop at night. They follow a series of rules designed to keep them alive. One of the walls of The Coop is a one-way window: a mirror for those on the inside and a transparent pane from the outside, allowing The Watchers to engage in a voyeuristic study of those trapped in their territory.

Shortly after John’s disappearance, Mina (Dakota Fanning) arrives. An American living in Ireland with a tragic backstory (told via flashbacks), she is transporting an expensive parrot when her car breaks down in the forest near The Coop. The residents allow her to join them in the shelter and explain the situation. But Mina refuses to believe that escape is impossible and her determination to find a way out creates friction with the others and raises the possibility that The Watchers may take an action beyond observing.

One of the most immediate problems with the film, and the one that hurts the viewer’s ability to become immersed in the movie’s reality, is character presentation. Mina represents the audience’s surrogate and, although I generally like Dakota Fanning as an actress, her performance here is stiff and stilted. Her dialogue is awkward, sounding more written than natural. The initial setup seems intriguing but, as is often the case with supernatural-type mysteries, the more we learn about the underlying truth, the more disappointing things become. It’s a director’s job to make even the most outlandish situations credible; that’s something at which Shyamalan proves unsuited.

Shyamalan is the daughter of M. Night (he has a producer credit) and, although she is listed as the sole screenwriter, the movie feels like it came out of her father’s shop. In fact, the setup – an isolated building in the middle of a forest where creepy things are happening – is similar (arguably too similar) to M. Night’s 2023 feature, Knock at the Cabin. The Watchers goes even further off the tracks than that one, however. The final act, which feels more like an epilogue than an organic extension of the main story, is forced and disjointed.

The Watchers is hamstrung on three separate occasions by exposition-laden sequences (one of which gives John Lynch the entirety of his screen time) that are necessary to resolve plot points and clarify mysteries. Unfortunately, they also bring the movie to a complete halt as they unfold. When the twist arrives (a seemingly mandatory element of any film made by a Shyamalan), it is neither surprising nor unexpected. The ending, in addition to being anticlimactic, is unsatisfying.

While sitting in a theater as the movie unspooled, I couldn’t help wonder whether the younger Shyamalan might be better served by blazing her own path rather than following in her father’s footsteps. M. Night’s time as a filmmaker has been erratic, with some big highs and deep lows. It’s unfortunate to see Ishana’s career get off to such an unpromising start. Ironically for something titled The Watchers, this production lacks the basic quality of watchability.

Watchers, The (United States/Ireland, 2024)

Run Time: 1:42
U.S. Release Date: 2024-06-07
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Disturbing Images)
Genre: Horror
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1