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Review: The Watchers

If one Night Shyamalan wasn’t enough for moviegoers, now there are two: 24-year-old writer-director Ishana Night Shyamalan makes her feature debut with The Watchers, produced by her father, M. Night Shyamalan. Both Shyamalans are prominently featured in the marketing, suggesting their surname is a brand synonymous with quality and intrigue. However, M. Night has had a rather bumpy career and his daughter fails to have a satisfying debut.

The Watchers certainly has the Shyamalan trademarks—an intriguingly weird setup, suspenseful buildup, and a central mystery that keeps the audience guessing. The story follows Mina (Dakota Fanning), an American in Galway, Ireland, who gets lost in a primeval forest while delivering a bird. Desperate and lost, Mina seeks shelter in a cell-like cabin, where she encounters Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), an older woman who warns her of the perils of the forest at night. The cabin, referred to as the coop, becomes a refuge where Mina learns about the mysterious and terrifying creatures known as the Watchers. The Watchers emerge each night to observe the cabin's occupants through a one-way mirror.

Madeline, along with two other coup inhabitants, Ciara (Georgina Campbell) and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan), explain the rules of their nightly ordeal. During the day, the Watchers disappear into their underground burrows, allowing the group to forage and explore. The forest is a maze, and those who attempt to escape often meet a grisly end. As the story unfolds, secrets about Mina’s past and the enigmatic professor who established the cabin are revealed, hinting at deeper motives and connections. However, so scant are the details about Mina that once the film is over, I can't tell you much about the character.

Ms. Shyamalan, adapting a novel by A.M. Shine, brings her experience from her father’s Apple TV+ show Servant to her feature debut. She manages to create a reasonably compelling supernatural thriller for the first third of the film. The initial setup is intriguing, the atmosphere is tense, and the interactions between the characters promise an unraveling mystery.

However, like many of her father’s films post-The Sixth Sense and Signs, The Watchers falls apart in its second and final acts. The grand reveal, intended to be a shocking twist, turns out to be a comically weak hand. The film feels like it is going to end after the big twist but continues on for another 25 minutes. This ending undermines the suspense and build-up, making the two-hour runtime feel like a total waste of time. The final attempt at a warm and happy ending further undermines the film from having a satisfying point to it.

The audience’s reaction to the film’s climax in my screening was one of laughter rather than horror. The laughter wasn’t a result of well-timed dark humor but rather a collective release of frustration and disbelief at the film’s inept conclusion. The thematic exploration, too, is haphazard. The film introduces potentially engaging ideas only to abandon them until the very end, leaving many threads unresolved. With characters and plot points feeling underdeveloped and disjointed, the film hardly feels based on a novel and I would struggle to believe this is a satisfying adaptation.

The cast, unfortunately, cannot salvage the film. Dakota Fanning gives a technically sound performance as Mina, but her intentionally flat and emotionally broken character fails to stand out when the entire cast is equally flat. Mina’s emotional detachment feels more unmotivated and the other characters are equally sedative in their performances.

The one redeeming quality of The Watchers lies in Ishana Night Shyamalan’s direction. Despite the film’s narrative flaws, she demonstrates a clear understanding of visual storytelling. The cinematography is impressive, with well-composed shots and effective lighting that enhance the eerie atmosphere of the forest. The film’s intriguing setup and atmospheric visuals cannot compensate for its incoherent plot and underdeveloped characters, making it a forgettable addition to the Shyamalan legacy.



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