Madeline, Daneil, Mina and Ciara inside The Coop in The Watchers

‘The Watchers’ is a Dry Fairy Tale Thriller

Reviewed by Chris Corey
June 15, 2024

The Watchers

★ ★

The Watchers manages to take an intriguing concept and make it woefully bland. The performances are wooden, the dialogue is dry and the script relies heavily on characters describing the story in order to carry the plot forward.

The film stars Dakota Fanning as Mina, an artist living in Ireland supporting herself by working a retail job at the town’s pet store. Her boss asks her to deliver a rare, orange parakeet, later named Darwin, to an Ireland zoo. The trip is a day’s drive, and she agrees to head out the following morning.

That evening, Mina puts on a wig as a disguise and dresses up in a sexy black dress. She tells Darwin it’s because she likes pretending to be someone else. Mina goes to a local pub where she sits at the bar, meets a guy and gives him a fake name. They have a conversation and that’s about it.

This is odd behavior, and could be an interesting psychological character study, but the film doesn’t bother to explain it and mostly leaves it at that one outing at the bar.

We can safely assume that Mina’s encounter with the guy at the pub stayed there because we next see her in her car the following morning with Darwin in the backseat as she starts the engine.

Mina’s travels take her deep into a forest where the road eventually narrows to just one car-width Suddenly, her car breaks down, deep into the forest. Mina gets out of the car, carrying Darwin and walks into the woods.

Mina lights her way in a cave with a candle.

Mina lights her way in a cave with a candle.
© 2024 Warner Bros.

A little way in, we can still see her car in the background, but as she passes the camera, the car disappears from our view. This seems to be a forest with secrets as Mina reaches a sign that says, “Point of no return.”

Mina decides to turn back and go to her car, hoping someone will drive by to help. She turns around, walking directly to where she started, but neither the car nor road are anywhere to be found.

Mina sees an older woman running in the forest. She runs after her when she hears an otherworldly beast fast approaching, its footsteps shake the ground and its screams screech loudly. The woman reaches a metal cabin and holds the door open for Mina, telling her she has five seconds to get inside. “Stranger danger” is probably less of a concern when a loud, unseen forest monster is fast approaching because Mina wastes no time joining the woman in the cabin.

The forest captives on display for The Watchers

The forest captives on display for The Watchers.
© 2024 Warner Bros.

Inside, the woman identifies herself as Madeline (Olwen Fouéré). There are two other people, both about Mina’s age, living in the cabin with her: Ciara (Georgina Cambell) and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan). They explain to Mina that the cabin is called “The Coop.” They have been there an indefinite amount of time, and they are on display for the monsters in the forest, “The Watchers.”

At nightfall, all four of them stand in front of a big glass window to introduce Mina to the watchers. Mina is told the rules they must live by: Don’t turn your back to the glass; go out only in the day because the watchers can’t be in the sunlight; don’t venture past the “point of no return” signs. It doesn’t really matter what the rules are because Mina wastes no time breaking them.

Mina in front of the watchers display window

Mina in front of the watchers display window.
© 2024 Warner Bros.

Mina investigates the forest and the cabin and eventually discovers a basement that no one bothered to look for prior to her arrival. In this basement, they discover that a university professor, Rory Kilmartin, used to live in the cabin and was researching the watchers. He even managed to catch a watcher to study it. After Rory was forced to kill the watcher, he committed suicide. But his research gives the new cabin occupants clues as to how they might escape the forest.

There are many missed opportunities to develop the characters in the film, but the screenplay rarely allows us to get to know any of them beyond basic surface backstory. As such, any emotional investment in them is minimal. This makes scenes of peril much less tense, far less exciting and not very interesting.

The moody cinematography is beautiful and probably the most interesting aspect of The Watchers. It matches the brooding tone the story tries to set even with the incredibly basic story and thinly written characters.

Mina and Ciara talk in the woods

Mina and Ciara talk in the woods.
© 2024 Warner Bros.

I was hoping for a better cinematic directorial debut for Ishana Shyamalen, who is veteran director M. Night Syamalen’s daughter. M. Night’s career started off promising, shooting fast to directorial stardom with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, but then hit a downward spiral. Hopefully her career does the opposite and trends upward from here.

The film is based on a novel by A.M. Shine, which presumably must have done more to develop the characters and the story based on the positive reviews it received. Described by Booklist: “Readers get an intimate glimpse into the fraying edges of each character’s psyche.”

What we get with this adaptation is casual storytelling framed with lots of dialogue, used to painfully explain the story, alongside dry, uninteresting performances.

Rated: PG-13 (Violence, Terror, Some Thematic Elements)
Running Time: 1h 42m
Directed by: Ishana Shyamalan
Written by: Ishana Shyamalan
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Georgina Campbell, Olwen Fouéré, Oliver Finnegan

Horror, Mystery & Thriller

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