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THE WATCHERS

I Warner Bros. Pictures Canada I June 7, 2024 I 102 mins. I

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29%

* As of 6/10/24

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Georgina Campbell, Oliver Finnegan, Olwen Fouéré, Alistair Brammer, 

John Lynch, Siobhan Hewlett

Directed By: Ishana Shyamalan

A 28-year-old artist (Dakota Fanning) gets stranded in an expansive, untouched forest in western Ireland. When Mina finds shelter, she unknowingly becomes trapped alongside three strangers who are watched and stalked by mysterious creatures each night. You can’t see them, but they see everything.

REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus

RATING 3 out of 5

The Watchers boasts nerve wracking tension thanks to Ishana Night Shyamalan’s direction that shows great promise as a storyteller, that despite a strong cast, does not fully stick the landing due to the film’s third act.

 

Like father, like daughter. M. Night Shyamalan has made a career on unforgettable twists while playing in the world of thrillers that border on the horror genre, and his daughter Ishana Night Shyamalan has done the same with her directorial debut. After working on Servant and Old with her father as a director, producer, and second unit director, Ishana Night Shyamalan makes her solo debut with the adaptation of A.M. Shines’ gothic horror novel The Watchers, and it is clear that she has great vision as a storyteller. For the first two acts of the film, she does wonders in slowly building tension and fear within the audience, giving viewers an entrancing gothic horror experience, though the source material’s ending ultimately hinders the film’s final act and prevents this from being a slam dunk directorial effort.

 

While the film has a similar presence that sounds like some of her father’s most famous films, The Watchers feels truly fresh within the landscape of the horror genre today. Set in an ancient forest in Ireland, the film follows a group of individuals trapped within this forest and forced to display themselves every night for the mysterious beings simply known as the Watchers, while trying a way to escape within the confines of daylight. Within the first two acts, Ishana Night Shyamalan’s screenplay does a wonderful job of giving the audience only small amounts of information as to what is truly happening, allowing the mysterious danger of the Watchers to loom over the characters and the audiences. Slowly, information about their existence is revealed, utilizing Irish mythology to ground the story and keep it from feeling far fetched. The third act features a lot of explanation, and that infamous Shyamalan twist (though this twist is pretty easy to guess early on in the film), but this all works to sadly bog down the film’s climactic scene. Not only that, but the final showdown between Mina and the Watchers relies heavily on philosophy rather than exciting action. It’s a narrative that is hard to translate to a visual medium, and while Ishana Night Shyamalan does not lose sight of Shine’s story, her screenplay and direction of the final act slightly misses the mark, ending the film with a fizzle rather than a bang. 

 

Without question, the highlight of the film is Ishana Night Shyamalan’s direction. From the second the film begins; she uses the camera and dark lighting to create a sense of dread and despair within the forest. The sound design sends a chill down your spine with every crack of branch, every monstrous noise and rush of ravens flying through the air, leaving the Watchers largely unseen until the end of the second act. It’s a method that has been used before in films with monsters, and it works well as it plays tricks on the audience’s mind as to whether the Watchers are real, or whether Mina has found herself trapped with a group of insane individuals within this forest. At times, the film could have benefited from better lighting as Ishana Night Shyamalan goes a little overboard on keeping the film plunged in darkness, sometimes to its detriment as it hides the action. But as a whole, it is a strong directorial effort that shows promise for Ishana Night Shyamalan and her future in this industry.

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Helping to elevate the film is a strong ensemble cast led by Dakota Fanning. Fanning is great as Mina, capturing the tortured soul haunted by her past with her mannerisms while portraying a strong and determined young woman dead set on making it out of the forest alive. Georgina Campbell, the breakout star of 2022’s Barbarian, gives an emotional performance as Ciara, a young woman trapped in the forest worrying for her husband who left days before trying to find help. There is an emotional vulnerability to Campbell that makes for a distinct contrast to her companions, finding compassion and tenderness in this otherwise cold and deadly environment. Olwen Fouéré possess the required wisdom and motherly instinct for Madeline, at the same time as she shrouds her character in uncertainty that has you questioning how much she knows about the group’s predicament; while Oliver Finnegan finds the right mixture of unstableness and sincerity as Oliver to round out the main cast of characters. Alistair Brammer, despite having a smaller role as John, Ciara’s husband, leaves his mark on the film and it was great to see him getting a role in a major film after years of performing in London’s West End; while John Lynch is perfect casting for Professor Kilmartin.


Almost within minutes of The Watchers beginning, it immediately gets under your skin. It’s a slow burn, gothic horror experience that hits all the right artistic elements under the talented direction of Ishana Night Shyamalan’s direction, only bolstered by a talented ensemble cast led by Dakota Fanning and Georgina Campbell. Even if the story’s climatic moment with the Watchers feels like a let down after all the unnerving atmospheric tension created during the film’s first two acts, Ishana Night Shyamalan makes her mark as a director and storyteller with The Watchers, promising that she knows exactly how to get under the audiences’ skin and bring out great performances from her cast.

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