Content Note: stalking
Francis (Karl Glusman) and Julia (Maika Monroe) have just relocated to Bucharest where Francis – who speaks Romanian – has a new job. Julia, on the other hand, is along for the ride but speaks neither Romanian, nor does she have a job. Her days are filled with lonely explorations of the city and waiting for Francis. But she increasingly gets the feeling that she is being watched – in her apartment and outside of it. When she hears about a series of murders in their neighborhood, Julia is convinced that it’s the killer who is watching her.
Watcher is a slow-burner that maybe could have been a little faster but that works anyway, especially in capturing Julia’s loneliness.
Watcher shares some thematic parallels with the festival opening movie, Resurrection. Especially when it comes to the question of who is believed, leading me to wonder whether this festival edition would be the “gaslighting SLASH”. (This inofficial theme didn’t hold afterwards, though, I think.) In the case of Watcher, it was less extreme, but the way Julia is disbelieved and thought hysterical at every turn, even by Francis, was no less distressing for it.
Things start slowly and develop slowly, but that slow pace doesn’t diminish the necessary tension. Things are really creepy for sure. And they probably would have been creepy enough even without the serial killer angle that I found a little bit too much. But I didn’t mind too much and can book it under poetic license. The ending, in any case, was extremely satisfying.
But the most outstanding part about the film for me was how it captures Julia’s loneliness, her sense of alienation. Being left in a strange city where she doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t really have anything to do, while Francis works long hours and speaks the language (I don’t know if Glusman actually speaks Romanian, but it sounded convincing to my non-Romanian-speaking ears), the film captures this feeling of unbelonging perfectly. That loneliness also means that Monroe is the sole focus point of the film and she carries it with a quiet strenght that is really great.
In short, the film is really well done in a for the most part understated way. That it isn’t among my absolute favorites nevertheless is probably only a question of personal preference and very subjective emotional resonance. In any case, I really liked it.
Summarizing: very good.