Review: ‘The Watchers’ (2024), starring Dakota Fanning, Georgina Campbell, Oliver Finnegan and Olwen Fouéré

June 6, 2024

by Carla Hay

Pictured from left to right: Olwen Fouéré, Oliver Finnegan, Dakota Fanning and Georgina Campbell in “The Watchers” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Watchers” (2024)

Directed by Ishana Night Shyamalan

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland, the horror film “The Watchers” (based on A.M. Shine’s novel of the same name) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one black/biracial person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 28-year-old American artist, who works in a pet store, gets lost in a wooded area and becomes trapped in a mysterious portal with other people being watched by fearsome creatures. 

Culture Audience: “The Watchers” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Dakota Fanning, the novel on which the movie is based, and horror movies that are more style over substance.

Georgina Campbell, Dakota Fanning, Oliver Finnegan and Olwen Fouéré in “The Watchers” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Watchers” succeeds in creating a foreboding atmosphere and some creature feature scares. However, this horror movie’s story (about people trapped and being watched in a forest portal) becomes a nonsensical mess with shoddy film editing. The movie repeatedly contradicts itself in ways that are never explained, thereby ruining the story’s credibility and having scenes that turn out to be fairly useless.

Written and directed by Ishana Night Shyamalan, “The Watchers” is her feature-film directorial debut. The movie is based on A.M. Shine’s 2022 novel “The Watchers.” Ishana Night Shyamalan is the daughter of M. Night Shyamalan, who has written and directed several horror movies that have been hit and miss, in terms of quality. M. Night Shyamalan is also one of the producers of “The Watchers.” Ishana Night Shyamalan was previously a writer and director of some episodes of her father’s Apple TV+ horror series “Servant,” which was on the air from 2019 to 2023.

In “The Watchers,” the main protagonist is a 28-year-old struggling artist named Mina (played by Dakota Fanning), an American living in Galway, Ireland. Mina (a bachelorette who lives alone) has a day job working at a pet store. Early in the movie, a brief glimpse of a sign post shows several missing persons flyers on a sign post. It’s an obvious indication that people have been disappearing with alarming regularity in the Galway area, but the movie’s screenplay is so thinly constructed, no one is seen talking about these disappearances in the movie.

At night, Mina likes to go to pubs and flirt with men, by wearing disguises and making up fake stories about herself. An early scene in the movie shows Mina wearing a black wig, going to a pub, flirting with a young stranger named Collin (played by Shane O’Regan), and lying to him about who she is. Mina pretends that she’s a ballerina named Caroline. This is the most that the movie reveals about what Mina likes to do in her leisure time.

Mina has been tasked with delivering a yellow parrot to a customer. Mina sarcastically tells the parrot, “Try not to die,” which is a sentence that the parrot repeats several times throughout the movie. Mina is driving through a heavily wooded area on her way to deliver this parrot when her SUV suddenly stops working. And because this is a horror movie, her mobile phone can’t get any signals in this remote area. (The woods scenes in “The Watchers” were filmed on location at Ballinastoe Woods in Ireland’s Wicklow County.)

As already shown in the movie’s trailer, Mina gets out to walk and find help. But when she turns around, she sees that her vehicle has suddenly vanished. Feeling stranded and helpless, Mina decides she’s going to name the parrot Darwin, presumably the namesake of Charles Darwin, the scientist credited with the “survival of the fittest” theory of evolution. Mina tells the parrot: “If we’re going to die here, you might as well have a name.”

Faster than you can say “incoherent horror movie,” Mina sees an elderly woman standing at the doorway of a portal. The woman, who later introduces herself as Madeline (played by Olwen Fouéré), shouts to Mina that if Mina wants to live, then Mina has five seconds to run through the door. A terrified Mina runs through the door, which slams shut behind them.

Mina finds out that this door has led to a mysterious house with large glass windows for walls. Madeline introduces her to the other people in the house, which Madeline calls “the coop”: friendly Ciara (played by Georgina Campbell) and rebellious Daniel (played by Oliver Finnegan), who both say that they have been in this house for an undetermined period of time. Madeline has been in the coop the longest.

Madeline explains to Mina that every night, people in the coop are watched by creatures for the creatures’ amusement. The people in the coop are not allowed to see the creatures. When the creatures come out at night, the glass walls and windows turn into mirrors from the inside, so that anyone inside the coop can only see their reflections instead of outside the house.

Madeline then explains that there are other rules besides not being able to look at the creatures. People inside the coop cannot try to escape and cannot leave the house at night. If they leave the house during the day (they have to hunt for their own food), they can’t be in the sunlight, they have to be back in the coop by sunset, and they can’t go near “the burrows,” which are really holes or caves. Anyone who breaks these rules will be killed by the creatures, says Madeline.

The first half of “The Watchers” drags with repetition, as Mina and Daniel break the rules and try to find ways to escape. As already revealed in the trailer for “The Watchers,” Ciara is married, and her husband John (played by Alistair Brammer) is somewhere in the woods. John is seen running frantically through the woods at night during the movie’s opening scene.

“The Watchers” has a lot of character actions that don’t make much sense. Mina doesn’t really ask a lot of questions when she’s trapped with these three strangers. Madeline, who used to be a university professor who taught history, seems to know a lot of the “rules” and is very bossy about them, thereby making it obvious that she knows more than she’s saying. Ciara barely mentions her missing husband John until he apparently comes knocking on the front door.

Mina has a past trauma that is haunting her: Her mother died when Mina was 13 years old, and Mina and her identical twin sister Lucy witnessed this death. Mina has been estranged from Lucy ever since. What happened to the sisters’ mother is shown in a flashback, which explains why Lucy refuses Mina’s attempts to reconnect with Lucy. However, this part of Mina’s past is somewhat mishandled in “The Watchers,” considering what happens at the end of the movie. (The origins and secrets of these “watcher” creatures are eventually revealed.)

“The Watchers” has some mild jump scares that slightly improve when the creatures are fully seen, after the movie repeatedly teases what these creatures look like. The movie’s cinematography by Eli Arenson is intentionally dark and murky for most of the film. After a while, all of this drab darkness seems like a smokescreen for a weak story. A professor character named Rory Kilmartin (played by John Lynch) is introduced in a very jumbled and rushed turn of events in the last third of the film, when Mina suddenly becomes a paranormal detective in ways that never look believable.

None of the acting in “The Watchers” is anything special. The movie spends a lot of time with the four residents of the coop, but Ciara and Daniel remain underdeveloped characters. Fanning’s Mina is supposed to be emotionally disconnected, but it results in a very dull performance. “The Watchers” has an effective music score (from Abel Korzeniowski) that helps create some suspenseful tension. However, having the right style in creating a mood cannot make up for the hollow characters and the story’s lack of cohesion in “The Watchers,” which has a very substandard ending.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Watchers” in U.S. cinemas on June 7, 2024.

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