The Watched Review

The Watched
Ireland. Mina (Dakota Fanning), lost in haunted woods which seem to have a history of missing people, arrives at a bunker where three mysterious strangers are studied by mysterious beings who stalk the forest.

by Kim Newman |
Updated on

Based on a novel by Irish author A.M. Shine, writer-director Ishana Night Shyamalan’s The Watched — known as The Watchers in some territories — feels like a companion piece to her father M Night Shyamalan's Knock At The Cabin. Again, we’re deep in literal and metaphorical woods and a random set of strangers gather for momentous, ominous purpose. In Knock, things got less interesting the more was revealed. This goes the other way — to the extent that the premise sold in the trailer is rather underdone (little is made of the situation where abductees are on display all the time). But when the claustrophobia lets up, the story takes off in fresh, unsettling directions. It feels like a pilot for a series, setting out more mythology than it can explore.

The Watched

Things are off-kilter even in the normal life of our hero Mina (Dakota Fanning): she’s working without enthusiasm in a Galway pet shop, few other faces are seen in focus, she’s only honest when talking to Darwin the parrot, and she dodges calls from her estranged sister Lucy. Tasked with driving Darwin to a zoo in Belfast, she gets lost in a woodland limbo. As in many recent Irish or Irish-set spook pictures (The HallowThe Hole In The GroundUnwelcomeBring Out The Fear, etc), incomers are beset by malign woodsy creatures which live underground, can’t bear the daylight, are associated with Celtic lore, and make knuckle-cracking _click-tick-lick_noises to show approval (or hunger).

We’ve been in a lot of haunted woods lately, but The Watched makes a stretch of Ireland magically threatening.

Mina winds up in ‘The Coop’, a concrete structure which looks like an enclosure at a zoo. A panoramic one-way mirror means the four trapped humans who spend nights there can’t see what’s looking in at them. By day, they roam as far as the ‘point of no return’ signs hung on trees with sinister folk-art installations, but they have to be back inside by sunset — rules explained by off-putting group elder Madeline (Olwen Fouéré). Naturally, Mina bristles at being told not to explore holes in the ground or try too hard to escape, and fellow captives Danny (Oliver Finnegan) and Ciara (Georgina Campbell) are often less than helpful in bringing her up to speed on how bad a pickle they’re stuck in.

We’ve been in a lot of haunted woods lately, but The Watched makes a stretch of Ireland magically threatening. The script is thin on character and keeps stumbling over plot points, but a decent cast pitch in — Fouéré continues to be one of the scariest people in movies — and the jump-scare button isn’t pushed too often.

Fanning brings her A-game and there’s enough mystery about the monsters in the woods to string audiences along until the satisfyingly weird finish. As mid-list horror goes, perfectly fine.
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