The Watchers – Dir: Ishana Night Shyamalan (Film Review)

The Watchers: Folk-ish horror from the daughter of M. Night Shyamalan fails to deliver on its unnerving premise.

The WatchersStarring: Dakota Fanning, Georgina Campbell, Oliver Finnegan, and Olwen Fouere

Shyamalan has a new film out, but it’s not M. Night Shyamalan who is behind the camera. It’s his daughter, Ishana. In her directorial debut, she adapts a 2022 novel by A. M. Shine. A 28-year-old dispirited American, played by Dakota Fanning, who works at a pet shop, is tasked with delivering a parrot to a customer. En route, she gets lost in the expanse of a West-Ireland forest. Those who enter the dense, foreboding forest never return, as sign-posted by a clunky expository shot of a cluster of missing posters.

Fanning stumbles around the eerie forest until she encounters three other strangers, played by Georgina Campbell, Oliver Finnegan and Olwen Fouéré. She is then taken to “The Coop”, a refuge from the unknown creatures that lurk in the forest at night. The trio have been stuck looking for a way to escape, but there is no easy way out, so they languish in their refuge. Inside The Coop, a brutalist shoebox, there is a large one-way mirror where its inhabitants are watched by these creatures, the watchers, from sunset to sunrise. Fanning and this group of lost souls are bound by a set of rules that protect them. You must not stray too far from The Coop. The day is safe. The night is not.

Ishana Shyamalan is a talented director in her own right, having directed a season of Apple TV’s Servant. In The Watchers, there is an impressive atmosphere of unease as she leans on the sound of this world, hoping to

make up for the film’s faults—an uninspired script that gets worse and worse with the more it reveals. Before long, The Watchers is an exasperating and exhaustive watch. The film toddles the line between folk horror and teen fantasy with spurts of Insidious and The Spiderwick Chronicles. Moreover, a befuddling plot twist, a Shyamalan family gene, is too grandiose, and Ishana Shyamalan lacks the maturity to swing for the fences fearlessly.

She seems to have inherited the best and worst of her father, but there’s hope. There is a sprinkling of stylishly directed scenes, such as when Fanning and Co must stand at attention for the watchers who linger on the other side of the glass. Ishana Shyamalan knows what you can’t see is scarier than what you do—she teases out the nerve-shredding tension in what could’ve been a ‘boring’ scene. Ishana Shyamalan is a talented filmmaker, but The Watchers may be a sign that she is out of her element as a screenwriter. Instead, the directors chair may be a more natural fit for the heir to the Shyamalan cinematic universe.

Thomas Giblin