The Watchers – Directorial debut from Ishana Night Shyamalan gets lost in the woods of folklore 

We’ve come to expect intricate, creepy thrillers from M. Night Shyamalan so it’s no surprise that his daughters directorial debut follows in the same footsteps, almost. The Watchers follows Mina, an artist living estranged from her hometown America in Ireland, who gets lost in the woods and finds herself enslaved by the watchers; a swarm of unknown creatures that stare into their glass enclosure through the night. Already in ‘the coop’, are Madeline, Daniel and Ciara, an ensemble of lost strangers fighting to stay alive. Together, they try to survive the forest and each other whilst finding a way out of their torment. 

Conceptionally, this film has a fantastic premise, being etched in folklore and having a fresh perspective from your typical horror. Reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, the stuck in the forest with no escape narrative will never fail to provide unease and fear. Shyamalan uses this to her advantage and strings us along in a Jaws-esque way for the majority of the film before letting us finally see the creature. The forest was beautifully mapped and shot in a way that gave us the same sense of misdirection that the characters were dealing with. There is a sense of carefulness to the way Shyamalan directs with every place and shot having a purpose that was really wonderful to watch. 

However, the writing is where this film fell flat. It has a very ‘woe is me’ tone throughout that inevitably makes you less caring of the protagonist, with her stating “you don’t want to know the real me” and don’t get me started on the running from your past narrative that seems to be written through every horror movie in the last 10 years. As well as this, there was a little too much explanation in everything. Sometimes things are best left unsaid, but this movie wants to tell you everything instead of showing you it. Not to mention, the one DVD the ensemble has in the coop is a season of fake love island that plays multiple times with very little rhyme or reason. Ishana claims she was “watching love island while writing the script” and found a likeness to her characters and the reality stars, which there is absolutely no evidence of in any of them. 

There is an enormous weight on Shyamalan’s shoulders to live up to the legacy of her Father, and it is clear she has the skill to do so, however the written material here didn’t give her the grace to. Visually, the entire movie is clean and beautifully shot, but it is clear she is more interested in developing the forest than fleshing out any characters. The ensemble were an odd mix of personalities with no real story or reason to them, and Mina (Dakota Fanning) was given a lacklustre backstory that gave her nothing but a lack of emotion. The concept was intriguing and fresh, but ultimately the execution of script and character development had a brutal effect on the final product.