Film reviews and more since 2009

The Watchers (2024) review

Dir. Ishana Night Shyamalan

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★½

I don’t believe I’ve used the phrase “ass-numbingly long” on a film shorter than two-and-a-half-hours, but for The Watchers, which runs at approximately 95 minutes sans credits, I’ll make an exception.

The directorial/writing debut of Ishana Night Shyamalan — the daughter of the ever-polarizing filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan — is an absolute slog. Worse than outright bad, it’s maddening in its tedium: never utilizing its setting to optimal degree, hardly erecting any sense of peril, subjecting us to four characters it has no interest in developing, and incessantly reminding of us of “rules” nobody appears to have any interest in following.

The Watchers — based on a novel by A. M. Shine (find the humor in the fact it’s adapted by a filmmaker known as “Night”) — revolves around Mina (Dakota Fanning), a young woman working and vaping her life away at a ramshackle pet-store in Ireland. Her boss assigns her the task of delivering a rare bird to a zoo that’s ostensibly halfway across the land. Mina ends up in a cursed forest that, according to the opening voiceover, doesn’t show up on any map, so why her GPS routes her there is something you’ll have to take up with whatever forces you believe in. Deep in the forest, her car completely dies, and she’s stranded alone. At least she has the bird.

After wandering disoriented for a period of time, she’s waved into a giant cement building by an elderly woman named Madeline (Olwen Fouéré) as the forest is engulfed by darkness. One wall of the building is an enormous two-way mirror. The other side, never seen, are creatures that Madeline refers to as “The Watchers,” who watch her and two others (Oliver Finnegan) and (Georgina Campbell), simply exist in this mostly desolate space.

The unseen Watchers are kind enough to let their humans roam the forest in the daytime, but if they catch you outside when the sun goes down, they will kill you. When they retreat to this random structure in the middle of the forest, they are essentially the stars of a lame reality show for the benefit of the forces that occupy the dense wilderness.

Hollywood’s newest nepo baby has astoundingly little interest in exploring any remotely compelling facet of this premise. Instead, Shyamalan uses these forest-dwellers as vessels to recite to Mina about a dozen rules the Watchers have for their humans. They can’t have their backs turned to the two-way mirror. They can’t open the door at night. And then they proceed to break all of those rules in due time. The punishment for disobedience is the Watchers banging on the mirror. There’s hardly a sense of danger present.

Because there is no sense of dread, and the interpersonal dialog is defined by people relaying rules to one another, Shyamalan spends an ungodly amount of time developing this story for nothing. We never get to know these individuals as characters, so when one of them starts to lose their sanity, it’s a cruel inevitability as opposed to something that elicits shock and intrigue.

If Ishana Night Shyamalan proves anything with her debut, it’s that she has her father’s eye for visuals. Her work with cinematographer Eli Arenson leads to some astute framing and ominous bird’s eye and low angle shots of the forest. Too bad so little is done with the setting that it’s practically window-dressing on a dilapidated home. The Watchers will probably go down as the best-looking bad movie of the year. If there’s a positive for the younger Shyamalan, it’s that she got her Happening out of the way early.

NOTE: The Watchers is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Olwen Fouéré, Oliver Finnegan, Georgina Campbell, and Alistair Brammer. Directed by: Ishana Night Shyamalan.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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