Thursday, June 13, 2024

“THE WATCHERS”

THE STORY – A 28-year-old artist gets stranded in an expansive, untouched forest in western Ireland. Finding shelter, she unknowingly becomes trapped alongside three strangers who are stalked by mysterious creatures every night.

THE CAST – Dakota Fanning, Georgina Campbell, Oliver Finnegan & Olwen Fouéré

THE TEAM – Ishana Night Shyamalan (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 102 Minutes


Ishana Night Shyamalan is 24 years old. As a 2021 graduate from the prestigious NYU Tisch School of the Arts, she has credits as a producer on the Apple TV+ show “Severvant,” where she also directed six episodes. Then, she served as the Second Unit or Assistant Director on her father’s latest film, “Old.” It was evident Shyamalan was taking advantage of her innate position in the industry to the best of her advantage to learn as much as she could about the craft until she was ready to one day make her own feature.

“The Watchers” functions as Shyamalan’s feature directorial debut, for which she also wrote the screenplay, adapting it from A.W. Shine’s novel of the same name. The film follows Mina (Dakota Fanning), a 20-something American working in a pet shop in Galway. She’s uninspired with life and has little to no motivation to find inspiration. On the anniversary of her mother’s death, Mina’s boss gives her the job of delivering a parrot to the Belfast Zoo, which just so happens to go through a haunted forest that has gathered a reputation for ‘taking people.’ This means that once people go into the forest, they don’t come out. Once entered, Mina’s car soon halts, and she ventures into the forest. But she quickly loses her car and hears unrecognizable noises. To Mina’s benefit, a woman, Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), motions towards a structure for which Mina seeks shelter to hide from the unseen creatures. Inside are two other individuals who motion Mina to stand with them, facing a double mirror so the creatures in the woods can watch them as they visit each night.

Shyamalan shares her father’s (who also serves as a producer on the film) love and interest in horror and the supernatural. But Shyamalan has a visual eye of her own that is quite impressive, especially for a directorial debut. Shyamalan quickly identifies Mina as a lost soul through her lens and lighting. Mina is always shot up close, and there is an eerie mood throughout the entire film, tying in perfectly with the Irish folklore that is a focal point. Additionally, Shyamalan and cinematographer Eli Arenson’s use of color is exquisite. Fanning is predominantly dressed and shot in blue costumes and undertones, complementing her natural features and depicting Mina’s melancholy and isolation in the damp Irish forest. This is then contrasted with the colors of yellow and orange that are always sneaking up in the film, a reminder of the danger night brings and Mina’s rising bravery and determination to find an escape. It is evident that Shyamalan has a clear visual eye, and a strong one, too, that is able to adapt narrative prose into images that elicit fear and tension. It is both the stunning and eerie imagery that demands viewers’ attention throughout the film.

But unfortunately, Shyamalan’s visual eye is not as strong as her writing skills. It is challenging to adapt a novel into a film, as there is simply more time to develop character and plot in the latter. In this adaptation, the screenplay, particularly the dialogue, is rather flat and rigid. Its metaphors and symbolism are blunt (such as the shelter being called “the coop”), and the dialogue between the four characters is only truly there for exposition. The best and strongest moments in the film are the ones without words, where Shyamalan simply shoots her characters reacting to the stressful and horrible nightmare they are experiencing night after night. If anything, the bland lines that result in stiff line readings take the viewer out of the moment instead of supporting it.

But all four actors still provide strong performances and work great as the film’s quartet. Each one gives the other a sense of protection, yet they still only trust each other to a certain extent. Olwen Fouéré is captivating as the leader of the group, who was also a professor before she got lost, even though she deals with the most exposition-like dialogue that is almost impossible to perform authentically. Georgina Campbell is heartbreaking as Ciara, an optimist still waiting for her husband to return, and Oliver Finnegan, as Daniel, has entertaining moments of complexity. Nevertheless, Fanning still displays her immense on-screen presence as a film actor that works perfectly within the horror genre, making her such a commanding lead. It is easy to root for Mira as she figures out ways to escape and learn about the creatures and horrors of the forest, all of which is done through Fanning’s physical performance. Fanning and Shyamalan make a great director-actor collaborative pair reminiscent of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro or Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan. They seem to know how to bring out the best in one another.

As with M. Night’s reputation, the third act of this film takes a distinct turn, both narratively and tonally, that will divide its audience. Some may love it, while others simply hate it and think there was no point in including it in this adaptation. But even with its imperfections, which are meant to come within a feature debut, “The Watchers” is a solid directorial debut that showcases great potential. Yes, the screenplay is far from perfect and leans too much into the folklore too late in the story, resulting in the audience not caring about the lore. But the audience still wants the four characters to escape the coop unharmed. And as with any horror film, there are, in fact, numerous moments of thrills, scares, and unsettling moments. Which means the film succeeded in its objective. With a sharp, distinct eye and an unmistakable comprehension of visual storytelling, it is clear that Ishana Night Shyamalan will have a long career directing feature films if she wants it.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Shyamalan's strong visual eye promises a vibrant directorial career. The cast is effective, especially with Fanning in the lead. There are moments of scares and stressful sequences.

THE BAD - The screenplay is weak to the point of existing solely for exposition. The final 20 minutes feel tonally disconnected from the rest.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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Lauren LaMagna
Lauren LaMagnahttps://nextbestpicture.com
Assistant arts editor at Daily Collegian. Film & TV copy editor.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Shyamalan's strong visual eye promises a vibrant directorial career. The cast is effective, especially with Fanning in the lead. There are moments of scares and stressful sequences.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The screenplay is weak to the point of existing solely for exposition. The final 20 minutes feel tonally disconnected from the rest.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"THE WATCHERS"