There’s a book of essays by Siri Hustvedt provocatively titled ‘A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women’. American filmmaker Chloe Okuno’s debut feature, Watcher, could well be titled ‘A Woman Looking At Men Looking At Her’.
Maika Monroe, who jumped onto the genre scene with two brilliant turns in one year, The Guest and It Follows, has not really made a film worthy of her talents since then. That same year, Okuno released her acclaimed slasher short Slut.
These two talents meet in the Bucharest-set thriller Watcher, where Monroe plays Julia, the quiet (not to be confused with timid) wife of a marketing exec (Karl Glusman), who has been recently relocated due to a promotion. With her husband busy with his new job, and unable to speak Romanian, Julia wanders around and observes. There’s also a serial killer on the loose in the city, as there is wont to be in a psychological thriller. Almost immediately after moving in, Julia notices the shadowy figure of a man looking at her through the window. She is instantly creeped out and asks everyone around her to check in on this, which, to be fair to them, they do. But no one is able to determine who this man is or if he is, really, watching her.
It taps into the anxiety of being watched that will be familiar to any woman
The anxiety of being watched will be familiar to any woman, and Okuno’s direction taps into it with precision. The film’s atmosphere is oppressive: the grand windows in their flat turn Julia into an open target; she can hear strange noises coming from her neighbor’s flat through the wall; and even though the neighbors all know each other, her inability to speak the shared language isolates her from them.
Monroe is fantastic at making Julia’s swelling paranoia both the source of empathy and distrust. She becomes the stalker, following the man she thinks is watching her. The film makes us wonder if she’s actually being stalked or it’s all just in her head.
Okuno’s direction and Monroe’s performance, together, create a simmering anxiety that never really relents, not even when we know the answers to the questions that are consuming Julia: is that man really watching me and, if so, what does he want from me?
In UK cinemas Nov 4. Streaming on PVOD in the US.