Monday, July 22, 2024

A Haunting Debut For  Ishana Night Shyamalan’s “The Watchers”

Georgina Campbell and Dakota Fanning

Where to Watch: Theaters

Release Date: June 7, 2024

Rated: R

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Georgina Campbell, Oliver Finnegan and Olwen Fouere 

A chill in the air extends beyond a darkened theater as Ishana Night Shyamalan introduces us to a new realm of suspense with “The Watchers.” As her feature film debut, this horror flick showcases her inherited talent for weaving suspenseful narratives and crafting chilling imagery. But does the film live up to expectations? Being the daughter of one of the most notable filmmakers of the last two decades, M. Night Shyamalan, doesn’t make it easy, so let me go into detail on how this film fares.

The Victims

Dakota Fanning stars in the film as Mina, a young woman sent on a mission to deliver a bird to a remote house in the woods of Ireland. What she finds is a mysterious area with threatening creatures, and a group of unusual characters that she must coexist with, and perhaps even trust, until she figures out how to get out of her situation and who are these preying creatures.

As a fan of Fanning’s work, I found her performance in this film decent. It effectively conveyed the character’s desire to escape not only the shelter but also her past. While she emerged as the most humorous and determined member of the group, I felt the character lost some of its appeal towards the film’s conclusion. This, in my opinion, is more a result of the writing than Fanning’s acting.

Georgina Campbell, Dakota Fanning, , Oliver Finnegan and Olwen Fouere 

Fresh off her critically acclaimed and commercially successful horror film Barbarian, Georgina Campbell portrays Ciara, the calmer and more maternal member of the group. Despite her composure, Ciara isn’t immune to delusion – anyone would be in their situation, forced to stand before a giant mirror under the watchful eyes of these terrifying creatures. While Ciara is a memorable character, she doesn’t quite reach the same level of standout performance Campbell delivered in her previous film.

Oliver Finnegan, portraying Daniel, emerged as the most unsettling character in the group, showing some mental instability from the very first encounter with Mina. Despite being the youngest, he appeared to be a possible danger during some moments, marked by impulsive actions that surpassed those of the actual creatures lurking in the woods. During these moments, I thought, “Why would anyone trust or aid this erratic person?” While it’s acknowledged that his erratic behavior may have been caused by the dire circumstances of being trapped in the woods, his portrayal left no doubt – this man was unhinged!

 Olwen Fouéré delivers a great performance as Madeline, the group’s enigmatic leader. A woman possessing experience and having been in the woods the longest. Everything from her big white hair made me think this woman is someone to listen to but not necessarily trust. She enforces a strict set of rules, including returning to the bunker before nightfall, presenting oneself at the window for the creatures’ observation, and staying clear of the creatures’ burrows.

Lastly, my favorite character in the film was the smart alic bird who kept repeating “Try not to die!” on cue during intense and near-death encounters of the characters. Which was needed to break some of the tension the audience may experience during the film as the characters try to escape. 

Dakota Fanning and Olwen Fouere 

Slow Build of the Unknown

Ishana Night Shyamalan takes a patient approach to build suspense and does a phenomenal job of keeping the audience guessing who or what these creatures are, which is one of the film’s strengths. What helps with it are the visuals and the usage of dim lighting and darkness. For instance, when the four characters look out into the woods from the, they can’t see the monsters, they can only hear them or in some cases witness them destory items around them. 

 Which is where the sound design comes into play, the terrifying screams of these creatures made my heart jump a few times. I could hear every snapped twig under someone’s foot and the rustling of leaves when the creatures were moving around their prey. With the jump scares, the combination of the cinematography and sound design creates these scary moments that will make you jump or at least evoke a slight twitch. 

The film’s strength lies in its slow-burn suspense, relying on unsettling visuals and a pervasive sense of unease rather than overt gore. The cinematography is masterful, capturing the isolation of the cabin setting and amplifying the characters’ anxieties. The sound design is equally effective, using subtle cues and silences to keep the audience on edge.

What to Expect From M.Knight? 

“The Watchers” isn’t a film for those seeking a gory scare-fest, like in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Friday the 13th. Instead, it offers a more cerebral brand of horror, inviting viewers to join the characters who are isolated, preyed upon, and tortured mentally by these mysterious creatures. If I could compare it to anything, I would say it’s like when lions stalk and hunt their prey for the chase toying with them until they are evenly devoured. 

The film is filled with artful jumpscares and moments of unease that make a partially decent horror film, but where it lacks is the story itself. Especially in the film’s final act, which is unfortunate because until then, the movie lets the audience sit in this world of mysterious horror. In my opinion, the film could’ve been shortened by 15 minutes and had a different ending because I felt I deserved it. This makes me wonder if there is a director’s cut or alternate ending for viewers to see. Then again, the film is based on the book, so maybe it’s worth reading to see if the film did it justice. The film delivered some scares and tense moments, but ultimately, I left the theater feeling unsatisfied, leading me to give it a 6/10 rating.

Dapper Dr Feel

Felipe Patterson aka Dapper Dr. Feel, #BlackLoveConvo & Entertainment | @fdapperdr Dapper Dr. Feel is a Entertainment journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association and African American Film Association.

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