A complex supernatural horror film that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats

IN Ishana Night Shyamalan’s directorial debut The Watchers, viewers are treated to a labyrinthine journey through an eerie forest and a psychological maze within. It is a film that requires an open mind and a readiness to be constantly surprised.

Following in her father’s footsteps, Ishana has crafted a story where the only certainty is uncertainty. Based on A.M. Shine’s 2022 novel, this supernatural horror film is full of plot twists and is suitably chilling.

Dark forest

The movie’s protagonist, Mina (Dakota Fanning), is an American immigrant stranded in an Irish forest. Her car breaks down and what starts as a routine bird delivery becomes a nightmarish ordeal.

Fanning’s performance is compelling, capturing Mina’s transformation from a grieving, estranged sister to a resilient survivor. Along the way, Mina meets a peculiar ensemble of characters, the obedient Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), the kind-hearted Ciara (Georgina Campbell) and the pragmatic Daniel (Oliver Finnegan).

Each character is an enigma and their personalities oscillate between likeable and unlikable, making them real and relatable. Madeline’s strict adherence to the rules initially makes her seem cold but her backstory reveals a depth that commands empathy.

Ciara’s gentle nature endears her to the audience, yet her moments of doubt and fear inject necessary tension. Daniel, with his survivalist tendencies, can be both a hero and a hindrance, embodying the complexity of human nature in crisis.

$!Mina is curious of the Watchers in the forest.

Monsters, myths and mayhem

The mysterious Watchers, or Changelings, as revealed later, are the film’s true wild cards. These humanoid creatures, living in burrows and observing the group’s every move, are a masterstroke in horror.

Their photophobia and ability to mimic humans add layers of intrigue and dread. The scenes where Mina and Daniel explore the burrows are particularly gripping, showcasing the film’s ability to blend suspense with action.

The plot thickens when John, Ciara’s missing husband reappears in a shocking twist, leading to a gut-wrenching encounter that underscores the film’s theme – trust no one – not even those who seem familiar.

Character development

One of the film’s strengths is its focus on character growth amid the horror. Mina’s journey from a passive pet shop employee to a proactive survivor is mirrored by the evolution of the other characters.

Madeline’s revelation as the professor’s wife-turned-watcher adds a poignant layer to her initially stern demeanour. The professor’s video diaries, a clever narrative device, deepen the lore and offer glimpses into the nature of the Watchers, making the climax both inevitable and shocking.

Ending with finesse

(Spoiler alert) While some may find the ending a tad predictable, it is executed with finesse. The reveal that Madeline is a half-Watcher hybrid who plans to escape the forest by imitating Mina is a classic twist, yet it is handled with a sophistication that elevates the narrative.

Mina’s confrontation with Madeline is a tense and thrilling culmination of the film’s themes of identity and survival. The final scenes, where Mina reconciles with her twin sister while Madeline, in the form of a child, watches over her, provide a bittersweet closure that lingers long after the credits roll.

The Watchers is a psychological puzzle that challenges viewers to question every character and motive. Ishana’s direction ensures that the audience is constantly on edge, never quite sure what will happen next.

The complex interplay of likeable and unlikable traits in each character adds depth, making their growth under duress both believable and compelling. Despite a somewhat foreseeable ending, the journey there is filled with enough twists and turns to keep even the most seasoned horror fans on their toes.

The Watchers is currently screening in cinemas.

$!The Watchers is currently screening in cinemas.

DIRECTOR: Ishana Night Shyamalan

CAST: Dakota Fanning, Georgina Campbell, Olwen Fouéré, Oliver Finnegan, Alistair Brammer