“The Watchers” Review

Ishana Shyamalan’s directorial debut has dad vibes

(Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)

Despite a compelling-as-hell premise, first-time director Ishana Shyamalan’s borderline thriller/horror film The Watchers—much like father M. Night Shyamalan’s movies—starts strong, yet ultimately overstays its welcome.

In the film, a tortured young pet store worker named Mina (Dakota Fanning) is tapped to deliver a rare bird to a zoo in the Irish countryside. Mina has trauma, natch, and flashes back to fleeting glimpses of the thing that made her what she is today—kind of a sad sack.

The journey to the zoo doesn’t go as planned, obviously, and Mina becomes trapped in an inexplicable one-room building alongside a trio of similarly lost people deep within an unmapped forest. Perhaps this is what happens when we blindly follow GPS, but suffice it to say, it’s not a great plan to leave a broken-down car and wander into the woods. At night, the mysterious so-called Watchers come to observe Mina and the others through one of those two-way mirrors; what the creatures might be is anyone’s guess, but they make creepy sounds, so they’re probably not that cool. Thus, Mina decides to escape the forest despite grave warnings from another watchee (Olwen Fouéré), who has been part of the bizarre ritual for nobody-knows-how-long. Oh, if only it were that simple.

The Watchers is based on the novel of the same name by AM Shine, who here co-wrote the script with Shyamalan. Dear old dad produced, and his fingerprints are everywhere. If Isahana does have her own style or desires as a filmmaker, they’re overshadowed by a tone similar to M. Night’s Old or Knock at the Cabin—here’s hoping she has a little more autonomy next time.

Even so, Fanning proves she’s still got chops as an actor who is now well into a long career, and pretty much everything up to The Watchers’ big reveal is straight-up riveting. On the flipside, actors like Oliver Finnegan and Georgina Campbell can’t keep up with the more seasoned Fanning, leaving them to toil as expositional forces with little more motivation than clueing everyone in on the deal with the forest.

Ultimately, Shyamalan shows much promise (and it’s almost worth it to see the film for the excellent score from Penny Dreadful composer Abel Korzeniowski), and The Watchers is a perfectly fine summer popcorn flick, with a handful of jump scares and enough juice to remain watchable throughout most of its runtime. You’ll probably catch it on Amazon Prime some night a few months from now after one of those “There’s nothing else to watch!” conversations.


+Gorgeous music; Fanning’s still got it

-Drawn-out ending; dimensionless characters

The Watchers

Directed by Shyamalan

With Fanning, Fouéré, Finnegan and Campbell

Regal, Violet Crown, PG-13, 102 min.

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