The Watchers Is a Satisfyingly Eerie Slow-Burn Horror

The Watchers Is a Satisfyingly Eerie Slow-Burn Horror

The Watchers is a brooding and chilling breakthrough feature film debut from Servant producer Ishana Shyamalan, based on the novel by A.M. Shine. The filmmaker invites horror audiences on a surreal trip into the forests of Ireland for a story filled with supernatural intrigue and suspense.

The film stars Dakota Fanning (Netflix’s Ripley) as Mina, a traveling artist who’s taken up residence in Ireland, away from her past in the states. It’s an alluring change of pace to see Fanning play a lone figure who, as the film’s protagonist, isn’t a clean cut heroine but rather someone who slips in and out of other identities to escape her former life, and who doesn’t form long-lasting connections while living in Ireland. By the time she’s tasked by the animal shelter where she works to deliver a bird to a mysterious address, Fanning’s really sold us on Mina not being the most trustworthy lead—which is interesting to follow as she gets lost in the woods on the way to her destination.

When she realizes she’s stranded in a dense wood where every direction looks the same, with tall, sinewy tree after tree, the claustrophobic mood gets elevated with the reveal that it’s a forest that won’t let anyone out alive. Shyamalan masterfully executes a suspenseful tone with an eye for setting a darkly fantastical vibe. Like in fairytales, a mysterious older woman named Madeline (Olwen Fouéré) provides shelter for Mina and other folks lost in the woods before it gets dangerous at night. Initially, Madeline’s intentions seem more pure than Mina’s, who immediately begins to question all the rules the former educator and leader of the house has everyone follow. She along with the others believe that they’re safest in the house at night from the creatures that stalk the woods.

Image: New Line Cinema

The premise alludes to the supernatural forces in the forest based on Irish folklore, but we won’t reveal which of the many cryptid mythologies it taps into. Shyamalan builds an ensemble piece propelled by a tension-filled mystery that pays off despite some pacing issues in the first act; the slow-burn eeriness is palpable. The cast, which also includes Barbarian’s Georgina Campbell, is a stellar ensemble led by women, and it evokes shades of Yellowjackets by way of Lord of the Flies with a genre twist. It’s inspiring to see women share a whole movie together, challenge each other, and ultimately unite to fight off the evil in the woods; as for the monsters, they’re imaginatively conceived with creature design work that evokes Guillermo del Toro-style fantasy. The third act features some bold choices for a first-time filmmaker that mostly work and weave a solid modern day horror fairytale.

The Watchers is produced by M. Night Shyamalan, whose indelible vision as a horror filmmaker has definitely passed down to his daughter Ishana with a flavor all her own. This debut as she steps out into the filmmaking scene proves she has an undeniable knack for character work and an eye for world building. We can’t wait to see what’s next for the rising filmmaker.

The Watchers opens June 7.

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