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(2022) (Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: After moving to a country where she doesn't speak the language and her husband is always busy with work, a woman begins to worry that a serial killer might be stalking her.

Julia (MAIKA MONROE) has just moved to Bucharest with her husband, Francis (KARL GLUSMAN), for his marketing job. While he speaks the native tongue, Julia does not and thus feels like an outsider, with her only new acquaintance being their apartment next-door neighbor, Irina (MADALINA ANEA).

Julia tries to keep herself occupied, but after learning about a serial killer who's still on the loose, she begins to wonder if a figure she sees seemingly watching her from the building across the way might be him. It becomes worse when she keeps running into a somewhat creepy man, Weber (BURN GORMAN), who may or may not be following her.

With Francis spending more hours at work, Julia becomes increasingly paranoid that Weber might be the killer and tries to get her husband and others to believe her.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

All I want is to be left alone, in my average home
But why do I always feel
Like I'm in the Twilight Zone?
I always feel like somebody's watchin' me
And I have no privacy
I always feel like somebody's watchin' me
Is it just a dream?

Rockwell "Somebody's Watching Me"

Notwithstanding those who are trained to be ultra-observant of others around them, I think women have a better sense of being watched than men do. Of course, that stems from them having to contend with the ever-present male gaze and the romantic, sexual, and/or violent intentions behind it.

And speaking of the latter, since the majority of women -- in general -- are weaker than men, being aware of one's surroundings and who might be watching and/or following you is a matter of safety and self-preservation. Accordingly, most suspense/thrillers have a female protagonist as the character in the figurative and literal crosshairs of the male villain. Such is the case in the appropriately but not creatively titled "Watcher."

In it, Maika Monroe plays Julia, a married woman with no kids who's moved to Bucharest with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) for his job. While he's fluent in Romanian, she's not and thus struggles to understand what others are saying, although she's trying to learn the language as fast as possible.

While he's busy with work, she's out being a tourist when not spending time in their apartment that features huge, uncovered windows that look out on the city block and adjacent buildings, giving her a view of others -- and others of her.

She's apparently fine with the public view into their private lives until she spots a figure across the way and up a floor or two. Although tiny in size due to the distance, it appears someone is just standing there at their window, seemingly fixated on her.

Or so she thinks, and this new unease isn't helped when she learns that a serial killer is still nearby on the prowl with a predilection for cutting women's throats. Her concern then turns to paranoia when she repeatedly sees a man (Burn Gorman) who may or may not be the watcher from afar. Nonetheless, she spots him as he catches sight of her, stares, and moves in a stiff way that seems to signal to her that maybe he's having to stymie his impulse to attack.

Writer/director Chloe Okuno then has things play out as one might expect over the course of the 90-some minute run-time, albeit with more of a European cinematic experience vibe than that of most American thrillers (yes, part of that's due to the setting, but also the way its shot and its methodical approach at letting the tension build to a crescendo).

There's the usual array of red herrings, plausible explanations, and so on, and the main performers effectively sell their respective roles and related trappings to the point that you truly worry about the protagonist and her safety.

The only drawback is the conclusion that seems hurried and interested in wrapping things up rather than ratcheting up the suspense a final level or two. Some might not mind, but it somewhat undermines the effective slow-burn approach and atmosphere that preceded it. That said, female viewers might be happy to have things over, what with living in a somewhat similar and familiar world daily. "Watcher" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed May 30, 2022 / Posted June 3, 2022

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