By Jason Osiason
Maika Monroe’s stunning Scream Queen talents are put to immediate use in “Watcher,” a trite yet chilly millennial fusion of “Lost in Translation” and Hitchcock.
The film opens on a close-up of Monroe through the windows of a cab, announcing its preoccupations. What proceeds rests entirely on her face, and the exceptional performer is more than up to task–relishing close-ups and offering uncanny shifts in composure that are both guttural and subtle. Monroe’s dynamic depiction of anxiety and paranoia burrows deep into the screen. Her posture so delicate and harmless, her eyes so tender and inquisitive. Monroe is Julia, a young woman relocating to Romania with her sheepish husband Francis (Karl Glusman). Julia does not speak the language and finds herself adrift and listless. Her discomfort is further heightened upon noticing a voyeuristic neighbor across the street. This is typical genre fodder and the film is subsequently simple in both plotting and form. It’s about as inspired as its blunt title. The narrative progresses transparently with Francis gaslighting and doubting Julia’s anguished pleas for support. (Enough cannot be said about Maika Monroe’s harrowing work and how she empathetically showcases the helplessness and futility of a victim). Scenes are framed economically with a sleek blue sheen. When not in close-up, Julia is relegated to an askew side of the frame where perspective and geography threaten her. Male characters emerge from out of focus in the background. The script is rather sheepish and not as acute as it should. Questions are probed regarding consent and the politics of voyeurism. Is Julia responsible? Should she be indicted for curiosity and boredom? Julia’s background as an actress is an enticing layer and notion in sync with these ideas which is why the script’s ignored dismissal in further exploration is so disappointing. Especially considering a side character works as a stripper.
Of course, a young woman is not responsible for harassment and the shocking and admittedly unexpected third act castigates the institutes which continue to allow and enable these crimes. The jolt of the final moments is a testament to Maika Monroe’s astounding portrayal of a woman who will not be silenced.