Shyamalan’s ‘The Watchers’ is an intriguing and eerie watch

“The Watchers” (2024) – Mina (Dakota Fanning) runs an errand.  She’s a 20-something American living in Ireland’s County Galway, but this glum loner also runs from her past, estranging herself from her family, including her sister, Lucy. 

In the present, she’s asked to transport a bird, a parakeet or parrot of sorts, to Belfast, and this talking feathered friend frequently repeats, “Try not to die,” because the night before, Mina unfortunately said to it, “I’m going out.  Try not to die.”

Oh, Mina, please be more deliberate with your words. 

Still, this otherwise charming birdie is her sole companion across the western Emerald Isle.   Well, shortly after her navigator spouts, “One-hundred and six kilometers to reach your destination,” they find themselves stranded in a thick, arboreous forest.  Arrival in Belfast now seems as unreachable as discovering a rainbow and an associated pot of gold.

Mina is in danger.

Ishana Night Shyamalan takes a risk and steps out on the cinematic ledge to write and direct her first feature film, “The Watchers”, based on A.M. Shine’s 2022 novel.  Her famous father, M. Night, helped produce the movie, and “The Watchers” is an effective eerie mystery that plunks Mina, her bird, and three other individuals, Madeline (Olwen Fouere), Ciara (Georgina Campbell), and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan), in a claustrophobic predicament.  

For safety’s sake, they must take refuge in a (roughly) 500 sq. foot shelter to avoid The Watchers, a threatening brood of who-knows-what.  Madeline, Ciara, Daniel, and Mina’s protected haven will not be described in this review other than it’s an unexplainable structure sitting in the middle of nowhere, and a portion of it allows The Watchers – aptly named – to gaze at the four caged humans and one bird.

Fortunately, the survivors can leave their essential abode and walk freely outside during the day.  Still, The Watchers appear after sundown, and there aren’t enough daylight hours to reach the forest’s edge, past the “Point of Return” to return to civilization.   

Hence, they’re trapped in this woodland prison, filmed on location in Ireland.  Shyamalan and cinematographer Eli Arenson commendably deliver a palatable sense of doom by capturing overwhelming acreage, untouched by the industrial age, in every direction, along with production designer Ferdia Murphy and set designer Jil Turner’s contrasting bizarre brick-and-mortar lifeline grasped by the survivors after dark.  

Shyamalan plants an intriguing premise that flourishes with three questions.

Who are The Watchers?

How does their evening sanctuary exist in the first place? 

How can the five (including the bird) escape?

As the four (largely) work together to stay alive, Shyamalan steadily reveals morsels of answers through a refreshing, enlightening array of spooky surprises throughout the first two acts rather than keep us in the dark until the very end. 

This thoughtful decision keeps the pacing on point, which is especially important because the story could have bogged down with a small cast of characters endlessly stewing over interpersonal conflicts.  The film avoids this trap, as the focus primarily remains on the aforementioned questions (and following the rules to survive) and much less on individual backstories other than Mina’s, which Ishana and Dakota regularly revisit.  We discover the broken branches on our lead’s family tree.   

Admittedly, the third act wraps up too quickly, and the story breaks a bit with some plausibility questions.

For instance, where do Mina, Madeline, Ciara, and Daniel bathe? 

How can this route between Galway and Belfast not result in 100,000 similar annual fates like Mina’s, and can’t Google Maps help beforehand?

The shelter’s origin will raise some credibility doubts too.

Still, Rod Serling didn’t explain every far-fetched nuance in his “The Twilight Zone” series, like in “Time Enough at Last” (1959), where a simple bank vault would protect Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) from a nuclear war.  

(I mean, come on.  How can that happen?  Although, hey, they don’t make stuff as sturdy today.  Just turn to your washing machine or toaster these days, but I digress.)

So, the war here between rewarding a captivating idea versus how-would-that-actually-work mechanics is won by the former in a movie created by someone with a recognizable surname, and Shyamalan takes chances that payoff with plenty to ponder afterward.  

Step on that ledge again, Ishana.  We’ll happily watch.

⭐ ⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐ ⭐⭐⭐

Directed by:  Ishana Night Shyamalan

Written by:  Ishana Night Shyamalan, based on A.M. Shine’s novel

Starring:  Dakota Fanning, Olwen Fouere, Georgina Campbell, and Oliver Finnegan

Runtime:  102 minutes

Image credits: Warner Bros. Pictures

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