The Watchers Review: Dakota Fanning Shines In Ishana Shyamalan’s Atmospheric Yet Flawed Horror Debut

The Watchers Review: Dakota Fanning Shines In Ishana Shyamalan’s Atmospheric Yet Flawed Horror Debut

Eli Arenson's cinematography captures the haunting beauty of the forest and the oppressive ambiance of the characters' imprisonment.

Troy RibeiroUpdated: Friday, June 14, 2024, 04:29 PM IST
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Director: Ishana Night Shyamalan

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

Where: In theatres.

Rating: **1/2

This directorial debut of Ishana Night Shyamalan, endeavours to carve out its niche within the horror genre while echoing the atmospheric tension familiar from her father, M. Night Shyamalan's works. Adapted from A.M. Shine's novel, the film plunges viewers into an eerie Irish forest, setting the stage for a chilling narrative that, despite its promise, ultimately loses its way.

The narrative opens with a gripping prologue, showcasing Shyamalan's knack for crafting palpable tension and a gothic atmosphere. A terrified backpacker tries to escape the ominous woods, only to be dragged away by an unseen force. This sequence effectively sets a high bar for the suspense and horror to follow, promising a tale filled with spine-tingling moments.

As the narrative shifts to its protagonist, Mina (Dakota Fanning), the momentum begins to wane. Mina, an American working in Dublin, carries the weight of unresolved childhood trauma. Her journey to deliver a rare bird leads her into the same mystical forest, where she becomes trapped and finds refuge in a modernist building. This structure, serving as both a sanctuary and a prison, introduces a new layer of intrigue with its two-way mirror wall, through which the titular Watchers observe the human occupants.

The film's cast of characters, including the compassionate Ciara (Georgina Campbell), the restless Daniel (Oliver Finnegan), and the enigmatic professor Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), each bring their dynamics to the story. However, despite the potential for deep character exploration, the film falls into the trap of heavy-handed exposition. Instead of building tension through subtlety and show-don't-tell storytelling, the film frequently resorts to clunky dialogue that robs the narrative of its mystery and momentum.

Thematically, the plot flirts with compelling ideas about identity, perspective, and the primal fear of being watched. Yet, these concepts remain largely underexplored as the film fails to dig deep enough. The backstory of the Watchers themselves—a race of fallen elves with a penchant for observing humanity—loses its intrigue as it becomes increasingly convoluted and less frightening.

Visually, the film is a feast. Eli Arenson's cinematography captures the haunting beauty of the forest and the oppressive ambiance of the characters' imprisonment. Shyamalan's directorial choices, especially in camera angles and movement, demonstrate a keen visual sensibility.

As the story progresses, the film's structure becomes more of a hindrance than a help. The extended twist ending, which spans nearly twenty minutes and encompasses multiple revelations, dilutes the impact of each twist. This overextension not only muddles the narrative but also diminishes the potential emotional and dramatic payoff.

Overall, Dakota Fanning shines as the film’s lead, and while the film aspires to be a psychological thriller and a gothic horror, it ends up not fully committing to either. The result is a movie that is visually striking but narratively hollow, offering glimpses of brilliance that are overshadowed by its failure to sustain tension and build character depth.

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