12th Jun2024

‘The Watched’ Review

by Jasmine Valentine

Stars: Dakota Fanning, Georgina Campbell, Olwen Fouéré, Siobhan Hewlett, Alistair Brammer | Written and Directed by Ishana Night Shyamalan

28-year-old Mina (Dakota Fanning) gets stranded in a never-ending, untouched forest in western Ireland. Seeking refuge, she soon becomes trapped alongside three strangers who are stalked by mysterious creatures every night. Watched through a window where the creatures can see in but the humans can’t see out, Mina tries to get to the bottom of what’s going on — until it goes wrong.

When nepotism is good, we absolutely love it — look at Jane Fonda, Billie Lourd, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Therefore, it stands to reason that when an acclaimed director renowned for his unique take on thrilling storylines has a kid who wants to do the same thing, audiences should lap them up. However, Ishana Night Shyamalan’s directorial debut The Watched (or The Watchers, if you’re in the US) is far from stepping out of her father’s shadow, and there’s probably a fair way to go before she finds her own two feet.

If you were watching the trailer for The Watched back when it was playing in the ad breaks for even worse movies in the 2024 horror roster, you’d have been forgiven for thinking the film looked considerably above average. Trapped a a modern yet brutalist apartment in the middle of a classically eerie woodland, the hook was strong — the villains are there, we just can’t see them. Robbing us of one of our senses is a shrewd and effective way of making sure we’re shaken to our core, but there has to be enough substance to back up our fear. This is where Shyamalan falls down, coming close to selling us a horror-ridden woodland of false promises.

The name Shyamalan is synonymous with “big, unexpected twist.” While this worked beyond comprehension in The Sixth Sense, later reveals, such as 2021 horror Old, didn’t hold the same impact. If the force of the Shyamalan twist no longer holds its power, The Watched unfortunately falls into the same category. Without spoiling what’s to come, viewers will likely need to trick themselves into being surprised, seeing exactly where the plot is heading without it being visualized onscreen. This isn’t helped, then, by a lack of coherent and intriguing dialogue — which is incredibly noticeable when half your credited cast don’t have lines at all.

However, none of this is to say that Shyamalan isn’t developing some kind of authentic style, or that The Watched doesn’t have its positives. The movie’s visual landscape is largely stunning, and our debut director clearly has an eye not only for what is aesthetically pleasing but also for what makes a naturally good frame. Lead Dakota Fanning is just as enigmatic and charming as we expect her to be in basically anything, and Irish scream queen Olwen Fouéré once again pulls the spotlight as the wisened and all-knowing Madeline. It’s a strong cast and idea, it just never fully realizes itself in a satisfying way — but that’s no reason to write the younger Shyamalan off. We all start somewhere, even if our dad is famous.

** 2/5

The Watched is in cinemas now.


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