'The Watchers' Sees a Lacklustre Shyamalan Twist

Directed by Ishana Night Shyamalan

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

BY Rachel HoPublished Jun 6, 2024


Ishana Night Shyamalan "cut her teeth" working as the second unit director on Old and Knock at the Cabin, as well as triple-threating it on the Apple TV+ series Servant, directing and writing several episodes as well as receiving a producer credit on the series. All these were projects led by her father, M. Night Shyamalan — who also serves as a producer on Ishana's directorial debut, and whose name prominently appears at the top of the movie poster and all other marketing materials. But I digress.

I know my tone so far reads as a certified nepo baby hater, but I genuinely don't begrudge her. She can't help who her father is, and don't all parents want to provide every possible advantage to help their kids achieve their dreams?

When it comes to nepo babies, I'm far more curious about what they do with their opportunities and how they set themselves apart from their famous parent(s). And in the case of Shyamalan's directorial debut, The Watchers, while she shows a great deal of potential as a filmmaker in her own right, the fact is that her film distinctly holds her father's imprint but without a compelling Shyamalan twist — which really is the whole reason we go out to those movies.

Adapted from A.M. Shine's novel of the same name, The Watchers follows Mina (Dakota Fanning), a young American woman living in Galway, Ireland, who is tasked with delivering a yellow parrot to a client west of the city. When approaching a forested area, her truck inexplicably stops working. Exiting the vehicle, Mina (with bird) timidly walks around looking for help, only to find herself unable to relocate her truck.

Noting the strange markers scattered around the forest floor, birds swarm down and over Mina before she's grabbed by an older woman, Madeline (Olwen Fouere), and taken into a cabin bunker where she meets Ciara (Georgina Campbell) and Danny (Oliver Finnegan). Madeline explains to Mina that these woods are haunted by creatures who appear only during the nighttime, but they are safe in the bunker as long as they play by the rules.

One of the walls in the bunker is made of a giant window pane, which Madeline instructs Mina to stand in front of with Ciara and Danny. These creatures "only want to watch," Madeline reassures the newcomer. While the group is stuck inside the shelter between sun down and sun up, during the day, the group are free to roam within the markers Mina initially noticed.

Her father's strong influence on the film's aesthetic and pacing aside, Shyamalan sets up the premise of the story pretty well. Subtle and restrained, the first-half of The Watchers elicits a lot of mystery and tension. In these early moments, Shyamalan establishes herself as a visual storyteller above anything else. There are nods and references to some of the great horror and mystery stories of the past, as well as some artistic touches that never border on excessive flourishes. Instead, Shyamalan prepares audiences for the story's reveal with a steady and reserved hand.

The problem with creating a film that so strongly recalls her famous father's style is that the audience members are looking for that Shyamalan twist — similar to the expectations put upon Brandon Cronenberg in the body horror space. But unlike Cronenberg, Shyamalan doesn't make the family trademark her own.

Although the novel (and film) does contain a twist of sorts, it's a rather lukewarm, generic one that's a bit of a let down in comparison to the story it has built up, fizzling out any momentum it has created. While I'm not familiar with A.M. Shine and have only looked up a plot summary of the novel, I do think it's only fair to point out that it appears Shyamalan's adaptation remains relatively faithful to the source material, adding in some changes that avoids a page-for-page remake.

Undoubtedly, the most compelling part of the second-half of the story comes from the folklore that's introduced at the 11th hour. Fairy folklore has a firm foothold within Celtic mythology, and it's entirely fascinating. Creating a supernatural horror story around this lore should be equally mesmerizing, but in The Watchers, it's more of an end note to explain why everything happened, rather than being a part of the story itself — a decidedly duller option.

I'd love to see Shyamalan try her hand at writing an original script to couple with her visual talents, whether it's in the horror genre or not. The Watchers shows a great deal of promise for Shyamalan as a director, and it should be fun watching her grow and mature into her own in the years to come.

(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Latest Coverage