Review – The Watched (2024) (spoiler free)

In Ishana Night Shyamalan’s feature directorial debut, M. Night Shyamalan’s daughter proves that she has a natural talent on her own without any namesake, creating mystifying lands and lore in the horror The Watched. Whilst the film equips an expansive story filled with startling truths and shocking details, the continuous barrage of going-ons and happenings force the sincere spookiness of it all to drown amongst the chaos. This new gothic horror is certainly worthwhile, but the muddled dynamic dampens the film’s full potential. 

Mina (Dakota Fanning) lives somewhat of a no-thrills life, working in a pet shop in Ireland where she wallows and grieves in the loneliness of her existence. Tasked with transporting an exotic parrot to a zoo in Belfast, she soon finds herself stranded in a dark and eerie forest. Looking for a way out, Mina’s Search for rescue is cut short as she becomes trapped in a bunker where the night creatures crawl above. 

The Watched’s premise originates from a novel of the same name by A.M. Shine, who does a masterly job of intertwining Irish folklore into a twisted, ghastly horror novel. Similar sentiments apply to Shyamalan’s adaption, with the first act conjuring suspense unlike no other, crafting the same intrigue that the novel does towards the lore and mysticality regarding the central creatures. Keeping in mind these creatures, the film’s design aesthetics are also deserving of a hat tip, with their more minimalist appearance delivering ample tension at the mere thought of them. Once again, even further praise is awarded to the atmosphere of the forest and its pastures of green-tinged terror. And yet, The Watched still drastically wavers at the halfway mark. 

With all of its twists and turns, warped fantastical displays and heightened intensity, The Watched suffers from its abundance of thematics and exhibitions. The saying, sometimes more is less, is certainly a phrase the film could have benefited from, with the overall diegesis becoming overwhelmed and lacking focus on any of its countless elements. Leading on from the superfluous narrative is yet another crux in the faults of The Watched. Whilst Fanning, along with co-stars Georgia Campbell, Olwen Fouéré, and Oliver Finnegan, deliver strong performances, the dialogue they had to work with was bleak and overloaded with unnecessary, excess exposition to the point of it being uninformative and simply a negative expression into how it was presumed the audience could not gather the intel on their own. 

The premise of Shyamalan’s vision is worthy of compliment, with the folkloric, fantasy element complimenting the intriguing aesthetics of the setting, but the rambunctious nature of the film’s overdone plot simply hid a film that had the potential to be an excellent, curious tidbit into the world of fantasy horror.

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