‘They’re Watching’ (2016) Review
‘They’re Watching’ (2016) Review
Directors: Jay Lender, Micah Wright
Writers: Jay Lender, Micah Wright
Stars: Mia Faith, Brigid Brannagh, Kris Lemche, David Alpay, Carrie Genzel, Dimitri Diatchenko
An American woman starts a new life in Moldova, refurbishing an old cottage in the woods for a TV cable home-improvement show called Home-Hunters Global. After six-months to turn the rundown home around, a crew returns to film the changes but discovers the neighbors are not so welcome when they film a superstitious ritual, turning the trip into a deadly nightmare.
Becky Westlake (Brigid Brannagh) falls in love with Goran (Cristian Balint), a European footballer and they fix up a truly decrepit home on the outskirts of a very small rural town. She’s an aspiring artist and loves the old home’s design and rustic potential. They decide to buy and we skip ahead six months with a four-man crew of the television show arriving in the old city, spoiled by their easy lives in the states. Poking fun at the old-world countryside community, Alex (Kris Lemche), Greg (David Alpay), and Sarah (Mia Faith) are the camera operators who are planning to meet up with Kate (Carrie Genzel), the producer later. Right away they turn heads and their obnoxious entitled attitude gets them into trouble when they secretly tape a bizarre ritualistic funeral. Already on their bad side, this turns the townspeople even more against them. Later, the four of them learn from Vladimir (Dimitri Diatchenko), the local realtor and good guy, the tale of a woman burned at the stake, accused of being a witch a hundred years ago. This turns out be a no-no in conversation and quick exposition for the ending. Though the crew nearly ingratiates themselves into the town with a night of drinking, things quickly take a horrifying turn.
Directed by Jay Lender, Micah Wright, They’re Watching starts right off with the ending, a jarring violent image of a pretty blonde girl taking an ax to the head before running into the camera and going to black screen. It then skips back to the real beginning and we realize rather disappointingly that this is going to be another found-footage movie where every shot is through the lens of a shaky handheld. This is the first of many problems, but easily the most egregious. The pretext that the three camera operators must always film is loose to be sure, but weakened even further by an annoying use of horror found-footage tropes, including a sequence in night vision that is so contrived, it’s offensive. What’s worse is that the whole found-footage rule isn’t even maintained. A person who is holding the camera holds it in the face of someone else, but that person looks far off to the side like in regular films not at the person holding the camera. There are shots of things that have no business being shot and scenes that start but then suddenly stop for no reason (like a sex scene that cuts to an hour later in a blink as soon as the girl’s shirt starts to come off). Who cut the film?
Meanwhile, none of it is interesting, all of it low-grade retread of other movies done better. The issue is timing, a problem with so many horror movies. We have to ask why? Why does the ending happen when it does? What is the motivation for waiting and what purpose does it have? The only answer is because the script says so. As is the presence of frogs, a needlessly forever-alluded incident in Afghanistan, and why a town with electricity and Range Rovers, despite it’s old world feel, would choose to fight a powerful magic-wielding witch with axes and pitchforks. Granted, the story is by the people who wrote Call of Duty: Black Ops II and SpongeBob Squarepants, so there is surely some tongue-in-cheekiness on the table. But where is the fun? Yes, the ending arrives with one ‘surprise’ that is not and one that is, well, unexpectedly cheesy. That’s intended, or at least hopefully is. But it undermines the promised start only because what we thought was one thing turns out to be another, and while that could be clever in a better film, here it is not. Also, bringing up the obvious troubling cultural stereotypes would be senseless.
While They’re Watching is probably meant to be satire, it doesn’t do anything clever with the tropes of the genre and ultimately repeats what we’ve seen far too often already. It wouldn’t even be accurate to say it missed an opportunity as it simply doesn’t even try to be anything but a poor B-movie horror flick. No scares, no story, and no reason to exist, this is one more horror movie that will quickly be forgotten.