I recently watched “Watcher,” Chloe Okuno’s unnerving new horror flick, in a vaudeville-era movie palace during the Cleveland International Film Festival. Even better, seeing it in a cavernous 2,800-seat theater made the chilling screams of a lady echo behind me like we were in the screening room of hell.
Okuno burst out laughing when I told him that.
“That’s what you want – people screaming and squirming in their seats,” she said in a recent phone interview. “What I really want to do is go to the theater and give people a 3D experience by leaning forward in my chair and breathing down their necks.”
“Watcher” doesn’t need his help because he scares people on his own. Writing in The New York Times, Lena Wilson called it “taut, unwavering, unrelentingly sharp” and “one of this century’s most gripping tales of female anxiety”.
Filmed and set in Bucharest, Romania, “Watcher” (in theaters) is a psychological thriller about a young woman, Julia (Maika Monroe), who tries to convince her husband, Francis (Karl Glusman), that the strange man (Burn Gorman) who watches her from her apartment also stalks her in the streets. Neither Francis nor the police are convinced by Julia’s claims, but a neighbor, an exotic dancer named Irina (Madalina Anea), befriends and believes her.
In one of the film’s many heartbreaking scenes, Julia sits across from the man on the subway, unsure if the outlines of her grocery bag are shaped like fruit or a human head. The truth about this creep, when it comes, is a punch.
‘Watcher,’ Okuno’s feature debut, joins a long tradition of scary films, from ‘Gaslight’ (1944) to ‘Men’ (2022), that explore what happens when women aren’t heard or believed. . It also draws inspiration from “Rear Window” and “It Follows” (in which Monroe starred) in its calculated approach to voyeurism, harassment, and the terror of slow, deliberate pursuit of an antagonist – themes that Okuno also explored in his unnerving revenge horror short “Slut” and his rattling segment of the found footage anthology “V/H/S/94”.
Okuno, 34, said she was not allowed to watch horror movies growing up in Pasadena, California, and it wasn’t until her early teens that she sought horror because “it seemed legitimately dangerous”.
“I’m pretty sure I started with ‘Evil Dead’ and it opened my eyes to that other world,” she said.
While in New York directing an episode of “Let the Right One In,” an upcoming Showtime series, I asked Okuno to pick five movies that influenced “Watcher.” Here are his edited and condensed selections and commentaries.
There are a lot of filmmakers who have been influenced by this, because it’s set in a big apartment and it’s a paranoia story. But what he did very well was that it was a film told from a singular point of view. It invites you to emotionally experience everything that the character of Mia Farrow experiences. It was our mission statement.
Visually, in its composition, there are these wide shots in which Farrow is framed in frames, and you feel a combination of loneliness and psychic claustrophobia.
This Japanese animated film is about a pop star who tries to become an actress but is harassed by one of her fans. The imagery of this woman alone in her apartment is constructed with a feeling of dread. The man who pursues her, we only see him fleetingly. It gives us the dread we need while keeping it at bay for most of the movie.
“Watcher” was originally set in New York, but when we moved it to Bucharest, I rewrote the script and this film became a huge source of inspiration. I saw it in high school and it spoke to me.
I have lived abroad before and Sofia managed to accurately capture that bittersweet, melancholy feeling of being alone in a city and having a sense of fantasy and romance. But it also gives you loneliness and a strange sense of voyeurism.
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
This looks like the most unlikely benchmark. But on a narrative level, this movie unlocked another side of “Watcher.” It’s so good to capture her main character’s emotions using color, design and composition to help us see how she feels.
Also, the woman meets her neighbor, a sex worker, and they have this connection when she goes to the sex club where she works. It made me create a character that Julia could have a relationship with – that was a direct result of watching that movie.
Director: David Fincher
Here we looked at the character of John Doe, who we don’t really meet until the end. It was a model for “Watcher,” in that we don’t have a face-to-face encounter until the third act. He builds at that time.
It’s one of my favorite movies. My whole career, I’m going to chase after David Fincher and try to do something that’s an 18th as good as his movies.