I’m going to do two reviews here, since both are thriller/mystery/horror films, so if those aren’t genres you care about, you can skip the review and the two movies (Watcher and Abandoned). I’ll tackle Watcher first. First time director (and the co-writer) Chloe Okuno starts with a slow burn and lots of atmosphere, and for a first film, she shows promise. It’s a shame that she ends up with so many cliches.
Julia (Maika Monroe) has her first scene staring out the window of a cab, looking at the lights and the new town. She's moved to Romania, with the Romanian guy (Karl Glusman) she married. The scene of someone looking out the window of the bright lights in a new town needs to be retired. I was tired of it even when Bill Murray did it in Lost in Translation 20 years ago. She notices a creeper (Burn Gorman) at the apartments across the way who is always staring at her. I immediately wondered why these types of places never have curtains (at least they do quickly get some after she expresses her concerns). She starts to believe this guy is stalking her, and it would be a lot more interesting if the things she thinks are “stalking” could just be her misunderstanding, paranoia or coincidence; for example, running into him at a grocery store. Instead, she goes to see a movie by herself, and in a near empty theater, he goes and sits directly behind her, even leaning right into the back of her head. Yikes! To think, I get mad when the person a few rows behind me spends five minutes trying to open their Red Vines. But I digress.
There’s also a serial killer nicknamed “The Spider” and this guy could be a red herring or the killer.
What ends up happening is all rather predictable. For example, the husband reluctantly buys her story. One treat was the police officer, who also has doubts, but doesn’t act condescendingly, the way some officers do in movies like this. The way they handled that scene was a pleasant surprise.
The cinematography and sound design are also nicely executed, creating a creepy atmosphere. The performances are also solid, but with a weak screenplay, this all just comes across as a cookie cutter thriller. They don’t delve enough into the marriage problems, we learn nothing about the villain, and many of the conversations don’t feel authentic. One of those scenes involves a dinner party with another couple with whom the husband works.
It was nice to hear/see references to Charade (Cary Grant), and a discussion about The Godfather.
There was a scene with a cell phone being heard through a wall that was straight out of Bound (a thriller you must see). Other times I thought of Foul Play, Duel, and a few other films. Okuno certainly has some great influences. My wife said this reminded her of Rear Window. While I agree, I also thought of Brian De Palma’s Body Double.
The movie was a disappointment, but I’ll be looking forward to what Okuno does next.
1 ½ stars out of 5.
In ABANDONED, the movie opens with a double murder. A woman is giving birth to a baby, we hear screaming and the mom pleading, “You said I could keep this one!”
Gun shots ring out and it’s rather creepy. Fast forward to 40 years later when a real estate agent (Kate Arrington) is trying to sell this beautiful farmhouse to a new couple. At the last minute, she mentions the crime scene. The young couple decides they’ll take the beautiful fixer-upper anyway.
Emma Roberts, who has proven herself to have talent and not just be the niece of Julia, plays a woman suffering postpartum depression. And being the heroine of a horror movie is so in her wheelhouse. Showing a frank portrayal of the struggles she’s having as a new mom is an interesting angle for a horror flick. The problem was that with the baby constantly crying, which is probably making her depression worse and is trying to perhaps show us the baby senses the ghosts – was really just giving me depression! I hate having to deal with crying babies at movie theaters. Yet I was watching a screener of this at home and it was non-stop crying. I was ready to pull an Elvis and shoot the TV screen.
Her husband Alex (John Gallagher Jr.) had a hipster beard, and annoyed me in his own way. I think he called his baby “Little man” about 10 different times, and he was always playing old albums like The Turtles “Happy Together” or “Do You Wanna Dance?” It was funny when he played the Classic IV song “Spooky” although that made me think his first song should’ve been “Our House.” But I digress.
Since they’re new to the town, and he’s a vet, he has to drive long distances to get to various farmhouses. That means she’ll be home alone a lot, even late into the night. One farmer has some creepy pigs with a weird disease, and I was waiting for them to go all Cujo on him, or start flying around like a Pink Floyd song.
Sara hears children’s laughter and voices in the hallways and from one of the dressers that she can’t move or open (the house came furnished). We think something will come of that. It takes forever until it finally does.
For some reason, a weird neighbor shows up, just walking into their house while they’re upstairs to give him the 411 on the former residents. Luckily for us, he’s played by Michael Shannon, who is probably scarier than any ghost you could create on screen. He’s made a great career playing weirdos (my favorite role of his is his small part as the heavy in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead).
In this movie, unlike the one reviewed above, Alex never really believes Sara. He just feels her mental state is deteriorating because of mental problems he knows she’s dealing with. He just assumes this is a psychotic breakdown. And she’s not taking her meds, because she wants to breastfeed her son. I was hoping for that (not for that reason, calm down). I figured then the baby would finally stop crying!
The ghosts in this are rarely scary. It’s mostly lights flickering (although there’s one scary scene with the man in overalls running towards her while she’s in the bath).
This movie had the slowest pacing, offered little scares, and the ending is disappointing. It’s from another first time director – Spencer Squire. Perhaps the smartest thing he did was getting actress Kate Arrington, who had a small part, to talk her real life husband (Michael Shannon) to film a few scenes. Just watching him on screen is usually worth the price of admission. Not this time, though.
1 ½ stars out of 5.