The Watchers (2024) Dakota Fanning At Mirror
New Line Cinema

[Review] THE WATCHERS Takes Inspiration From Irish Folklore For A Modern YA Horror Story

Irish folklore and supernatural mystery collide in Ishana Shyamalan’s debut feature The Watchers, adapted for the screen by Shyamalan from A.M. Shine’s novel of the same name, The Watchers follows a group of strangers trapped in a remote Irish forest. Each night they are visited by unseen creatures who threaten to kill them all if they dare leave. It’s a strong, although familiar, premise that leaves room for endless speculation. What is watching them at night? And worse, what do they want?

In this weird world of hidden monsters and impossible situations, a group of travelers held captive (including burgeoning horror icon Georgina Campbell, Barbarian) rescue Mina (Dakota Fanning, War of The Worlds) at nightfall after her car breaks down while travelling through the countryside. Inside a building that looks like a studio apartment turned into a zoo attraction, Madeline (played by genre staple Olwen Fouéré, Mandy), the group’s de facto leader, explains that she has unknowingly wandered into a trap and that there are rules she must follow to guarantee her survival. 1) Stay in the light 2) Don’t enter the creatures’ lair 3) Never try to leave the forest perimeter, and 4) Let the creatures watch you at night. No one knows what the creatures are or why they are watching these desperate souls, but the danger is very real, and the stakes are life and death.

“…a strong feature debut from Ishana Shyamalan…”

The fun of a mystery is trying to solve it before the characters involved. The best keep you guessing to the very last minute but the strongest in the genre also suffer from the over-imaginative expectations of the viewer. Even Agatha Christie can’t compete with that kind of pressure. If you’ve been secretly hoping and building a case for a murderous ghost, you might be disappointed to discover that the butler did it, but that’s the risk of a good mystery. And with the limitless possibilities of a Supernatural Mystery, any appreciation for the final reveal comes down to the personal preference of the audience and the execution of the storyteller.

Where The Watchers really sang for me was in Shyamalan’s use of old school sleight of hand. Shooting directly into a mirror is either a technical nightmare or an expense problem to fix in post but by using doubles and clever angles to obscure actors faces, she was able to create really playful images by faking the existence of a floor to ceiling mirror. In fact, there are loads of scenes with fake mirrors that allow for some really fun moments of movie magic. What the movie is trying to communicate or interrogate about duality in some of those moments didn’t quite hit but, nonetheless, there is a level of technical expertise on display here that is as impressive as it is subtle.

The Watchers (2024) The Group Stands Before The Mirror
New Line Cinema

As a Horror movie, The Watchers doesn’t have many standout moments of pure terror and as a Mystery it doesn’t quite land the surprise it spends so much time building toward. There are no rug-pull A-Ha! moments, to be fair, but it’s discovery phase only leads to the promise of more scares to come, rather than a climactic finale. Fans of YA fiction will definitely dig its mood and world-building but as a thirty-something that sees a dozen of these movies every year, it’s just a bit of folklore obsessed fun. Well made, but not entirely memorable.

The Watchers is a strong feature debut from Ishana Shyamalan who cut her teeth on the Apple+ TV series Servant. Earlier this year we also saw Arkasha Stevenson unveil The First Omen after several years developing her own visual style through series’ like Channel Zero and Brand New Cherry Flavor. Shyamalan’s theatrical introduction is not as confident and distinctive a debut, but it checks all the boxes of what a supernatural thriller is supposed to look like. We’re bound to see more from her in the near future and, with a few successes under her belt, I hope her voice can break through the template of major studio expectations.

“…a bit of folklore obsessed fun. Well made, but not entirely memorable.”

Ishana Shyamalan’s The Watchers is in theatres now! Let us know what you thought of this supernatural thriller on TwitterFacebookInstagramTikTok, or in the Nightmare on Film Steet Discord!


The Watchers (2024) Dakota Fanning At Mirror
[Review] THE WATCHERS Takes Inspiration From Irish Folklore For A Modern YA Horror Story
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