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'The Watched' Review: Some Fine Tuning Could've Made This Great

By Becca Johnson June 11, 2024
The Watched

Directorial debuts are always exciting, particularly when the horror genre is ripe with remakes, reboots and sequels. Filmmakers with new, intriguing ideas are always welcomed with open arms onto the scene; when that newcomer is Ishana Night Shyamalan, daughter of M Night Shyamalan, that excitement is amplified even further.

Boasting a star-studded cast including Dakota Fanning and Georgina Campbell, with a promising trailer full of intrigue and mystery, many have been anticipating the release of The Watched and hoping for an interesting, surprising and unique new voice to emerge. With stunning visuals and great performances, The Watched puts on display some excellent filmmaking techniques. However, its tendency to over-explain leaves a lot to be desired within the story-line.


A 28-year-old artist gets stranded in an expansive, untouched forest in western Ireland. Finding shelter, she unknowingly becomes trapped alongside three strangers who are stalked by mysterious creatures every night.


The story of The Watched takes us deep within the Irish countryside, into a forest that once you’re inside, you cannot escape. It doesn’t take much time to engulf us in darkness, and the forest we are thrust into is eerie and foreboding. The darkness is expansive, the tall trees seem to go on for miles and the colour palette is as cold and menacing as it is aesthetically pleasing. Straight out of a folklore fairy-tale, the visuals throughout are utterly stunning. Shyamalan knows exactly the tone and world she wishes to create and she ultimately achieves it, sending viewers into a world that feels familiar and fairytale-esque all at once. The score from Abel Korzeniowski compliments this well, which is equal parts enchanting and haunting. The overall atmosphere is the films best asset, as Shyamalan shows confidence in her ability to create such an immersive film that truly feels like its been pulled out of a Grimm fairy-tale. Its visuals and atmosphere alone will certainly ensure The Watched earns a deserved place within the folk horror sub-genre.

The Watched

Shyamalan wastes no time when it comes to tension building, and whilst the horror on display here is meticulous and a slow burn, it certainly delivers. There’s a feeling of uneasiness within every frame, and she masterfully uses the fear of the unknown to keep us on the edge of our seats. The Watched plays its cards close to its chest and doesn’t shown its hand too soon, leaving room for intrigue and a desire to know more. It manages to steer clear of showing us the true horrors too soon, thus creating a flick that’s consistently interesting. Rustling trees, looming landscapes and birds frantically flapping away when the sun sets make up the bulk of the horror during the first act, and though that may sound fairly familiar, the film achieves the effect it aims for and creates an immersive feel. When the horror truly starts to take shape, and our watchers emerge from behind the trees, things really kick into gear. The creature design is not only undeniably scary, but the film remains clever by utilising the darkness and its surroundings to make them look as utterly terrifying as it can, taking light, silhouettes, size and sound into consideration when creating the watchers. Shyamalan knows that horror villains are scarier when they can’t be seen in all their glory, a technique that she makes use of for as long as she can. There are a few formulaic jump scares in the beginning and some shoddy effects during the third act, but for the most part, the horror works a treat and it should manage to get under the skin.

Dakota Fanning (The Twilight Saga) is terrific as lead character Mina, an individual who is still dealing with the trauma of her Mum dying 15 years ago, thus keeping herself isolated and hidden away. Fanning puts a lot of emotion into her performance, delivering a memorable turn with a satisfying arc. Georgina Campbell is a current horror fan favourite after starring in Barbarian back in 2022 and Lovely, Dark and Deep earlier this year, and she continues her hot streak. The script for The Watched doesn’t allow her to show as much range as the previous horror movies she’s starred in, yet she’s impressive nonetheless as Ciara, another individual forced to be stalked by the watchers alongside Mina. Every group has their leader, with Olwen Fouere (The Northman) as Madeline, the oldest of the group who tells newcomers the rules they must follow in order to survive. Fouere is great at making Madeline appear a natural born leader, guiding the group whilst simultaneously putting doubt into their minds - how does she know these rules, and why should we blindly follow her? Newcomer Oliver Finnegan is the final cast member forced into the mirrored room labelled ‘The Coop’, and his turn as Daniel certainly puts him on the map. Easily lead yet eager to survive, his naivety and drive makes him an intriguing yet unreliable character to follow. The whole cast here are great, driving the story forward and keeping the audience invested.

The Watchers

What stops The Watched from reaching true greatness is the clunkiness within the story. Whilst it certainly has something to say regarding performance, and it creates a successful mystery leaving you begging for the answers, when said answers arrive, things get messy. The script has a tendency to hand-hold, reducing its reveals to exposition-heavy monologues from our characters and interactions that hammer home information that we have already put together ourselves. It may also push the boat out too far with its visuals, as some of the CGI and effects look lacklustre when compared to the beauty of the first two acts. It attempts too many ideas around the end, often making it feel like three separate horror movies spliced together. The ending fails to match the eerie and naturally uncomfortable tone of the build-up as it goes a little too far, showing the audience far more than it needs to and over-explaining simple beats and ideas. Many may also be affected by its slower pace. Although we like our mysteries wrapped up once the credits roll, The Watched may lead us to ask ‘how much information is too much information?’.

Shyamalan shows tremendous promise with The Watched, a unique folk horror filled with intriguing mystery, gorgeous cinematography and good performances. The atmosphere and spooky visuals make for some memorable moments, and the horror on display shows the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The story could’ve done with some finer tuning as the script over-explains itself, telling rather than showing once the third act kicks in. If it stuck the landing, it could’ve been great.

Star Rating

Rating The Watched

The Watched (aka The Watchers) is out now in cinemas


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