Starring Mia Faith, Kris Lemche, David Alpay, Carrie Genzel, Brigid Brannagh, Dimitri Diatchenko
Directed by Jay Lender and Micah Wright
Distributed by Amplify
I’m generally reluctant to go against another Dread Central critic’s review. It’s not that I don’t frequently disagree with the staff or fear some kind of retribution from the Grand Tzar Uncle Creepy. It comes more from a combination of realism and the ability to chill the fuck out. This is not my site, nor should it be, and as a result there are a myriad of conflicting opinions that all bring about a higher level of discussion and better community than a singular voice. At the same time, I’m no longer 14 and don’t fly into the 3rd stage of Super Saiyan rage when someone doesn’t share my particular tastes.
So it takes a lot to get me to muster up the fucks to write a contradicting review. My general metric is that it at least has to be a two-star out of five difference in opinion. Even then, I don’t run to the keyboard every time my favorite franchise has been misrepresented. I only spring into action when I hear the same common criticism over and over that I feel misses the point of what makes the film enjoyable. For They’re Watching, that criticism is that the film feels inconsistent.
I’m not going to spend a terrible amount of time addressing the criticisms of my contemporaries. People feel that the movie is inconsistent, but the oscillation between the comedy and horror is what makes They’re Watching better than the sum of its parts. It’s the makeup of a great horror fan favorite or cult classic. There were moments where I was confused as to whether I should be laughing or gripping my blanket, but that’s the whole point. It’s genuinely funny, but it’s also mysterious and strange. If you feel like you can’t predict where it’s going or what it’s going for, then congratulations, and welcome to They’re Watching! If that bothers you, then you aren’t getting what makes this film fun.
Mr. Gorman’s review went over the basics of the plot, so I’ll only briefly recap them. “Home Hunters International” is a TV show that puts people in homes, internationally. Becky and Goran buy a shithole in the middle of Moldova that for some reason Becky loves. Fast forward to six months later, and the crew is back to film the follow-up. Sarah (Mia Faith) is the focal point, but it would be hard to pick a protagonist out of the minimal cast. Everyone is given a good amount of time, and we learn about the quirks and issues involved in shooting the show.
However, things are not all as they seem in this quiet little Moldoven town. Between ominous funerals and mysterious burnt stakes in the middle of the woods, it’s pretty clear shit is going to hit the fan at some point. And oh, how it does hit the fan. It hits the fan so gloriously that I could feel it shred and shotgun spew on my face. It culminates in such a glorious cavalcade of schlock that I genuinely hurt myself laughing so hard.
Aside from the best ending outside of The Collector’s alternate special feature, the connective bits give They’re Watching life apart from its scares. This is a film with maybe two shocking scenes, so what really holds it together is the world-building. They couldn’t have picked a better setting, as the real Pavlovka is barely even on the maps. The weird superstitions and customs aren’t just talked about, but literally etched into the walls and fabrics of the town. Even their local chocolate of choice, Doina, is impossible to find outside of Google searches for this movie. The barrier between fantasy and reality is razor-thin, grounded enough to feel real while still remaining bizarre and mystical.
It’s kept alive further by great performances all around, with Dimitri Diatchenko (Vladimir), Brigid Brannagh (Becky), and Carrie Genzel (Kate) standing out. Strangely enough for a found footage movie, I never felt like anyone was dragging the production down. There were times I thought the character of Sarah was acting like an irrational amateur, but it fit her character. There are only two criticisms I have for the characters. First, Greg’s (David Alpay) troubles with what he saw in Afghanistan felt trite. I get that it fit into the larger narrative, but it was paid off at a time that drew focus from the main conflict. The acting was a bit stiff for it too, but not to the point where I cringed. Second, Mia Faith is distractingly pretty. I’m serious. I’m not about to discredit her acting abilities for it, but I found my focus chronically pulled. It makes sense since all the other characters seem to realize her attractiveness level as well, so don’t take it as a heavy criticism. Still, I had to mention it, just in case she was reading and jonesing for some fat weird nerd.
Not everyone is going to like this film. The divide between critics that love and hate this film isn’t just academic, but boils down to fundamental taste. Plenty of people that I know and respect have wildly different opinions on this film, with even the inhabitants of my own movie-watching couch being pretty evenly split. Many feel like the over-the-top ending, complete with people exploding into frogs and faces melted off by tentacle lasers, is too jarring and doesn’t make sense in the world. If that is your opinion, I ask, “What would you prefer?” Another shaky-cam chase through the woods with frequent inexplicable visual “glitches?” Maybe a close-up of the crying protagonist as they hide in a corner, followed by a quick glimpse of the screaming ghost’s face as it pops into frame and the camera stops? That’s the kind of cliché shit that made us tired of found footage in the first place.
They’re Watching isn’t revolutionary, but it is very different. It gives you a reason to like found footage again. It’s more fun than scary by a mile, and plenty won’t like it. But if you’re like me and this is your cup of tea, you’ll love it.