(Chloe Okuno, USA, 2022)

BY YONCA TALU | June 24, 2022

The toxicity of the male gaze has rarely been depicted on-screen with such chilling intensity as in Chloe Okuno’s debut feature Watcher. A refreshing take on the apartment thriller genre epitomized by films like Rear Window and Rosemary’s Baby, Watcher centers on Julia (Maika Monroe), a twentysomething former actress who relocates from New York to Bucharest with her half-Romanian husband, Francis (Karl Glusman). While Francis works hard at his new job, Julia spends her days settling in and sightseeing, but soon becomes haunted by the sensation of being watched and followed by an ominous man living in the building across the street—a suspicion heightened by the fact that a serial killer of young women has been active in the couple’s neighborhood.

Immersing the audience in Julia’s point of view, Watcher powerfully conveys her growing anxiety as a woman left to her own devices in a foreign environment. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, a distraught Julia hides from her potential stalker in a repertory cinema showing Stanley Donen’s Hitchcockian murder mystery, Charade. After making sure she hasn’t been followed inside, Julia calms down and even manages to crack a smile, but her expression changes back into a fearful one when a menacing, shadowy figure enters the theater and takes a seat behind her. Tension builds as the edit cuts from Julia’s perspiring face to a terrified Audrey Hepburn on the screen, culminating in a disquieting moment in which the stranger leans forward and exhales slowly onto Julia’s neck. This is no cheap thrill, but rather a testament to the director’s knack for visual storytelling and her awareness of how pervasive sexual harassment can be. 

Yet Julia’s daily ordeals fail to convince either Francis or the police that she might be in danger. The only person who empathizes with her is their next-door neighbor Irina (Madalina Anea), a trained ballerina who works in a strip club—ironically baptized ‘‘Museum’’—and is all too familiar with being stared at and objectified by men. Empowered by a wine-soaked conversation with Irina, Julia decides to take matters into her own hands and confronts her watcher’s gaze through the window, then follows him around town the next day as he performs banal activities, like feeding pigeons and eating in a cheap restaurant. It’s a pivotal sequence that injects ambiguity into the antagonist—played by Burn Gorman with a mixture of melancholy and creepiness—but also propels Julia’s transformation into an unflinching heroine worthy of the best female-revenge tales.

A miniature gem of relentless suspense, Watcher exerts a visceral grip due in no small part to Monroe’s deeply felt, vulnerable performance as a woman torn between her intuition and society’s need for rationality. As with many genre protagonists, the role of Julia relies heavily on nonverbal acting—a delicate balance between restraint and emotion, which Monroe pulls off admirably here, as she did in 2014’s It Follows. Her portrayal of Julia elicits the kind of identification that one could only hope for in a film whose stakes are as universal as Watcher’s. 🩸


is a filmmaker and film critic living in Paris. She grew up in Istanbul and graduated from NYU Tisch and the École Normale Supérieure. Her work has been published in Film Comment magazine and Metrograph’s Journal, among others.

X: @Yonca_Talu

How to see Watcher

The film was released in theaters June 3, 2022, and can now be seen online or via Blu-ray and DVD.
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