Review: The Watchers


There’s nothing quite like nepotism, is there? Just because a person lucks out and happens to be a child of someone famous and important, they’re given opportunities and access that normal people have to work hard to achieve. It’s always annoying to see it crop up in Hollywood, where bad actors or bad directors are given a chance solely because of their parents, and it’s all I could think about when I saw watching The Watchers. Here was a movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan’s daughter, Ishana, at the ripe old age of 24, and all I could think of was how she was not ready for the big leagues.

This thought stayed at the forefront of my mind the more I watched The Watchers because I couldn’t comprehend how an experienced director could make a bare-bones movie like this. A first-time director? I can see that, but even then there are too many flaws for a first-time director to make. Now as for an inexperienced director who was put into the director’s chair way earlier than they should have been? That’s a more accurate description.

THE WATCHERS | Official Trailer

The Watchers
Director: Ishana Night Shyamalan
Release Date: June 7, 2024 (Theatrical)
Rating: PG-13

Set in Ireland, Mina (Dakota Fanning) is a young woman who isolates herself from others. She refuses to talk to her sister or talk about her mom’s death, wears disguises to have one-night stands with people, and lives alone in a rundown apartment. While driving to a town to deliver a bird for her job, she gets lost in the woods and finds out that for some unknown reason, she’s unable to leave it. At night, strange monsters descend on anyone in the woods, but she finds a small building called “The Coop” to seek shelter in. In it are three people – Madeline (Olwen Fouere), Ciara (Georgina Campbell), and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan). They inform Mina that these beings are “The Watchers” and will watch them live their lives in that little room at night. It, and the woods, are effectively a prison, and Mina wants to find a way out of it.

Not even within a single scene, The Watchers completely lost me. With its first bit of narration explaining that this movie would be set in a strange forest in Ireland, the movie gives away its big reveal and what its monsters are. For anyone who knows anything about Irish culture or just how any horror movie works, it should be pretty obvious what the central premise of the film is and even some of the moments within it. I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case, but the longer the movie went on, the more I realized that The Watchers is content with no surprises for its viewers. More than anything, The Watchers is a predictable movie that hits every single beat you would expect from a film like this.

We have mysterious creatures, people that act and say strange things, and too many clues planted where the film gives its big twists and ideas away too quickly. I didn’t feel smart or surprised as the story progressed and these “startling” moments began to crop up. I, instead, was annoyed that the movie took so long to reveal what was going on. A part of that comes from how repetitive the dialogue is, with characters repeating the same basic phrases every couple of scenes to the point where you can’t help but feel that The Watchers is doing this to clumsily present itself as unnerving. Its characters need to be odd, but not too odd, so let’s just have them say jarring phrases that will look good for a trailer.

Review: The Watchers

Copyright: New Line Cinema

It doesn’t help that The Watchers is a dull watch. Running at just over 90 minutes, it feels longer than it is, mostly thanks to the vacant shots of trees and fog. It’s a quiet movie, but instead of those silent moments being juxtaposed with the loud abrasiveness of the Watchers, that only works if the presence of the Watchers is chaotic and frightening. But they’re not. The Watchers are boring monsters who have a generic design and when you find out what their deal is, they become even less scary. When our four heroes decide to finally take them on, it leads to a… climax? I think?

The ending is kind of hard to describe because despite building up the oppressiveness of the woods our heroes find themselves in, they rather easily find a way out that makes you question how anyone could be stuck here for months and years. Even when the finale does begin, it just kind of occurs without any real fanfare. And then the movie decides to keep going afterward despite there not being much else to do. It plays the rest of its hand at this point, a hand that the movie was fully telegraphing and showing off to us a half hour into its runtime, but it lacks any impact because of how predictable it was. Even then, its ultimate message rings hollow and you’re left with an overbearing feeling of “well, that happened.”

Everything about The Watchers reeks of a first-time director not knowing what to do. I know that Dakota Fanning isn’t the best actress in the world, but she’s capable of giving a better performance than what’s here. An actor is only as good as its director and most of the cast’s performances feel stilted in a way that a young and inexperienced director would try to have them play their roles in a very specific way instead of letting the actors naturally play with the script. Add onto this a script that feels incredibly simplistic and monsters that are mediocre at best and The Watcher feels more like a proof-of-concept that Ishana Night Shyamalan meets the technical definition of a director. Not a particularly good one, but she has made a horror movie that meets all of the basic criteria of one.

Review: The Watchers

Copyright: New Line Cinema

And no, before you even ask, as far as horror movies go, The Watchers hardly delivers. There are a few decent moments, like when the Watchers are interacting with the Coop in the middle of the night, and how the movie never draws any attention to the strange things happening in the woods in the background, but this is a horror movie that will leave most fans bored. At first, I was going to say that this is par for the course for a PG-13 horror movie, but after having seen I Saw The TV Glowmy expectations of what a PG-13 horror movie is capable of have increased exponentially. Just because you can’t show a lot of gore or swear a lot doesn’t mean you can’t have terrifying and unnerving concepts. All The Watchers really has to call itself a horror movie is some creepy woods and a few bland monsters. That’s it.

There are a few shots that are at least well done in the film. I especially liked the reflective imagery that was used for most of the time in The Coop, which sets up some of the later themes of the movie, but I feel frustrated that those scenes don’t take advantage of that. During the last ten minutes, there was a perfect moment for the film to call back to an early scene and shot that took advantage of the mirrors in the Coop and connect the beginning and ending of the film thematically, but it simply didn’t. It was set up and ready to go, with the script directly making references to it, but Shyamalan didn’t even attempt to try and make that comparison.

That’s the core problem with The Watchers. In the hands of any other director, while I probably don’t think it would be a good movie, it would at least have some more personality and presence than what’s here. Since we have a director who is clearly inexperienced running the show, there are a lot of careless mistakes that shouldn’t have been made. The script would have been more polished, the actors would have had better direction, the pacing wouldn’t be as odd, the proceedings wouldn’t have been as dull, and the film would have been more overt with trying to better tie in its themes to all elements of the movie. This is what happens when someone who doesn’t have enough real-world, practical experience is placed in charge of a major motion picture. You get The Watchers, one of the blandest movies I’ve seen all year and a movie that misses more than it hits.




Between a weak script and dull execution, it's clear the Ishana Night Shyamalan is too inexperienced for the big leagues if this is the best she can deliver.

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.