THE WATCHERS Review: A Frustrating Debut Feature

Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
THE WATCHERS Review: A Frustrating Debut Feature

A young woman takes an unfortunate detour deep into a mysterious Irish forest only to find that not only can't she make her way out again, but something is watching her, and it is not friendly. The directorial debut of Ishana Shyamalan – daughter of you-know-who – demonstrates that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree in The Watchers, an adaptation of A.M. Shine’s fantasy sci-fi mystery novel from 2021.

Set in the emerald wilds of western Ireland, The Watchers follows twenty-something Mina (Dakota Fanning) on what should be a routine bird transfer (?) from a pet shop to a zoo that goes awry when she becomes lost in a never-ending forest. After her car goes dead and night begins to fall, she is beckoned to a concrete building by the kindly Madeleine (Olwen Fouéré), where she immediately joins Ciara (Georgina Campbell) and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan) in a nightly ritual that involves presenting themselves through a giant two-way mirror to “the watchers”. Not much is known about these watchers, except that they are dangerous, and they expect their captives to follow a few hard and fast rules, one of which is the presentation each evening.

Each day when the sun rises the quartet sets on about preparing for the next night, hunting and gathering for food, cautiously exploring the local woods for a way out, and avoiding the burrows where the watchers are believed to retreat during the daylight hours. The veterans seem fairly resigned to their fate, but Mina hasn’t learned that lesson in humility just yet and she begins to push the boundaries of what is acceptable (and safe), much to Madeleine’s chagrin.

As Ciara and Daniel start to lose faith in the go-along-to-get-along scheme, relationships in the bunker begin to deteriorate until a series of shocking discoveries inexorably changes the paths of its inhabitants’ lives. Who or what are the watchers, and what do they want? Do we even care?

It would be virtually impossible to talk about The Watchers without referencing the work of M. Night Shyamalan, something that I’d initially planned on avoiding, but the work itself refuses to let it go. Much like her father’s films, The Watchers presents us with a puzzle box, an isolated family of sorts – a la Signs, The Village, Old, Knock at the Cabin – facing an unknown external threat that they must somehow discover and defeat in order to make their way to back to their former lives. Multiple twists and turns and then twists again muddy their routes to freedom.

The Watchers certainly cannot be faulted on its technical pedigree. Contributions from the cinematographer of Lamb (Eli Arenson), the composer of Nocturnal Animals (Abel Korzeniowski), and the editor of Benedetta and Elle (Job ter Burg) lend the film a gravitas that most first-time filmmakers would kill for, which unfortunately lays the majority of the onus for its failures at the hands of the director. Shyamalan just can't make the pieces fit without cutting crucial narrative corners

The current generation of amateur online film critics has developed an obsession with so called “plot holes”, elements in a film that don’t match up from one scene to another. Why would a character do X when we’ve already seen them do Y, ascribing real world logic to the imaginary worlds of film. In about ninety percent of cases, these types of things don’t bother me; if the film is able to transport its audience to a world in which magic or logical inconsistencies are accepted or inconsequential to the larger themes, so be it; that’s the magic of art. Unfortunately for The Watchers, this internal logic is not only flawed, but the film adamantly sets itself up as existing in a world of rules which it constantly breaks while expecting no one to notice.

Say what you want about M. Night Shyamalan’s films, they take big swings and always follow them through to the most incredible lengths with a kind of confidence that demands respect, even if the films are not one-hundred percent successful. Ishana Shyamalan’s The Watchers, on the other hand, seems determined to lay out rules and then expect the audience to look the other way when they are ignored or even brazenly broken. Not scary enough to be horror, not imaginative enough to be fantasy, and not serious enough to be hard science-fiction, The Watchers exists in an uninteresting no-man’s-land that sadly doesn’t speak well of its debutante director. Who watches The Watchers? No one who values their time.

Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.

Around the Internet