The Watchers Review

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At the pinnacle of his career, M. Night Shyamalan was synonymous with suspense. Between The Village and After Earth, though, you could summarize his filmography with a facepalm. Nowadays, Shyamalan movies are like a box of chocolates. The Visit and Split were steps forward, Glass and Old went back to square one, and Knock at the Cabin was met with a resounding, “It was fine.” Shyamalan has always been known for twists, but rarely has he been more unpredictable. Likewise, few knew what to expect when his daughter Ishana Night Shyamalan announced her directorial debut, The Watchers.

One might say it’s unfair to compare Ishana to her father. Watching The Watchers, though, it’s clear who Ishana drew most of her inspiration from. This is a Shyamalan production through and through, which can mean multiple things. Ishana adopts many of her father’s strong suits, building tension in a foreboding environment with an engaging mystery driving the plot forward. In some respects, Ishana improves upon her father’s craft. The performances and tone are more consistent than what we saw in Lady in the Water or The Happening. There’s a ton to admire, but like most films with the name Shyamalan attached, the story becomes more convoluted the more you think about it.

The plot’s shortcomings are elevated by its cast. Despite now being in her 30s, people still tend to think of Dakota Fanning as a child star. Considering that Fanning was often typecast as precocious children, she’s made the natural transition to adult actress. As Mina, we’re reminded why Fanning deserves more lead roles. Mina goes from being lost in life to getting literally lost in the Ireland woods. As the sun goes down, Mina seeks refuge in a shelter with three strangers: Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), Ciara (Georgina Campbell), and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan). Lurking outside is a group of mysterious creatures called the Watchers, who observe the four through a one-way mirror.

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The Watchers seek to study the humans and imitate them. Although the Watchers can’t go out during the day, the sun always goes down before the humans can reach the forest’s boundaries. While the setup is simple enough, The Watchers is engrossing for its first hour. Shyamalan does an impeccable job of shaping a seemingly ordinary woodland area into an eerie nightmare zone. The Watchers themselves, while often hidden in the shadows, possess a spine-chilling presence. We’re not sure exactly how safe Mina is with the three humans either. The confined setting is reminiscent of the M. Night Shyamalan-produced Devil, but with a more uneasy atmosphere.

The third act is where Ishana starts to embrace her father’s less favorable habits. While the inevitable twist is a solid one, it’s bogged down by exposition. Several revelations are essentially pulled out of thin air. Ishana creates an intriguing lore, but in a movie that revolves around the unseen, the less we know, the better. There’s also an overarching commentary on reality television without a payoff. Oh, and remember the infamous water scene from Signs? Although The Watchers doesn’t quite recreate that, one scene comes close. Ishana might not hit the ground running with A Sixth Sense, but she does demonstrate a strong sense of terror. For all its narrative faults, The Watchers is a consistently chilling experience that’s never dull. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a page-turner, even if those final pages could’ve used polishing.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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