FeaturesMovie ReviewsReviews

‘The Watchers’ is Conventional, but Ishana Shyamalan Shows Promise

Share this:

The Watchers brings in a new member of the Shyamalan family behind the director’s chair. The new kid on the block is Ishana Shyamalan, the daughter of the iconic filmmaker M. Night. For her first trick, we see Shyamalan invoke the literature of A.M. Shine, and the material feels ripe for the typical flavor known behind the famous name. Everything is present for the Shyamalan name: A mystery, a splash of horror, and yes, a third-act surprise. For various reasons, The Watchers feels mostly predictable at times. However, the source material has some relatively cool elements that give it a gentle boost.

It’s hard to decipher what is or is not a spoiler in a Shyamalan movie. For some, saying spoilers exist is “a spoiler.” While this writer will exercise as much ambiguity as possible, proceeding with caution in the following sections is essential.

For fans of fantasy, The Watchers includes a surprisingly fantastical element. As a DnD enthusiast, this writer found it refreshing. However, the hidden surprises in The Watchers may be extremely obvious to viewers.

What is The Watchers about?

The film centers on Mina (Dakota Fanning), an artist who decides to flee into the country with almost nothing but her parrot. It has all the familiar setups of an M. Night Shyamalan joint. We introduce a character—he, she, or they might have a tragic past, and then insert said character in a two-hour episode of The Twilight Zone.

Mina drives far into the forest of Western Ireland before getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. The radio begins to act strange, the clock goes haywire, and the forest swallows Mina whole. The car she travels in disappears, and she becomes enveloped by an endless wasteland of trees. The sounds of monsters echo in the forest, and from nowhere, a group of survivors beckons Mina to follow them.

Leading the group of survivors is Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), an older woman with great authority among the group. Along with Madeline is Ciara (Georgina Campbell of Barbian) and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan). Together, they lead Mina back to a safehouse that locks tightly from the inside. The haven has a one-way mirror for the creatures to watch the crew from the outside, like a goldfish tank. Madeline tells Mina they are watchers, and as long as she obeys “the watchers” rules, Mina might survive.

Dakota Fanning in The Watchers
Dakota Fanning in The Watchers. (Warner Bros)

Folklore and fantasy give The Watchers a lift

The best aspect of The Watchers is the added layer of fantasy woven into the suspenseful storyline. Without giving too much away, there is a subtle Pan’s Labyrinth vibe to The Watchers. The ingredients do not make the film as great as Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece, but this small element adds a fresh element to the Shyamalan brand. Having not read A.M. Shines’ novel, this writer is curious how much the screenplay aligns with the source material. However, if the movie stays true to the text, it’s easy to see why Ishana Shyamalan was drawn to the story.

This story could have been adapted into a more compelling fairytale. However, as we will discuss later in the review, the problem is that it comes from the same family known for surprise endings. Knowing the Shyamalan style, viewers expect a third-act twist, which can make the rest of the film feel less engaging than it should.

The gimmick of continual narrative twists

Even though The Watchers is based on a novel, the Shyamalan brand continues to misunderstand what made The Sixth Sense a compelling masterwork. It wasn’t just the shocking finale that recontextualized the entire film; it was the character and story. We are invested in Bruce Willis’ motivations and eagerness to do right by the next child. We want Haley Joel Osment’s character to find peace with whatever is tormenting him. The movie carefully takes its time to find a heart before ripping the twist on the viewer. Because of this, the finale is highly satisfying.

The Watchers as a film runs briskly and lacks the same character development. It functions more as an extended Twilight Zone episode than a character-driven story. Furthermore, because the film has the Shyamalan label, we instinctively understand a twist ending will unfold. If one is searching for the reveal, viewers will find it easily.

Predictable, gimmicky, but Ishana Shyamalan clearly has potential

Because this is Ishana Shyamalan’s first film, it’s undoubtedly competently made. There are far worse debuts to be found in the Hollywood ether. Yet, at the same time, there are far more significant, even from the Shyamalan name. She previously directed episodes from the haunting AppleTV+ series Servant, which is actually a great series. Still, for all of its fun interplay with fantastical horror elements, The Watchers should be stronger as a narrative work. 

What is noteworthy about The Watchers is that Ishana Shyamalan wrote and directed the film adaptation. Surprisingly, she is far more gifted at writing dialogue than her father. She is also beginning her career on far better footing than M. Night.

Fun fact: one of Shyamalan’s first industry gigs was writing Stuart Little. And The Watchers is a better film than Stuart Little. The Watchers is a predictable and conventional Shyamalan offering. Even so, the torch passed down to M. Night’s daughter is burning strong with potential.

The Watchers is now playing in theaters. Do you plan to watch this one soon? Let us know what you think of it on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord!

Take a Bite out of Monique Asher’s Don’t Eat The Pie

Don't Eat the Pie by Monique Asher Review Banner

I Saw the TV Glow: Pop Culture’s Role in an Unaccepting World

I Saw The TV Glow Review Banner

Share this:

John Dotson

Born and raised in Texas, John Dotson has been a film pundit for over 10 years, writing reviews and entertainment coverage at various online outlets. His favorite thing in the world is discussing movies with others who also love the art form.

John Dotson has 36 posts and counting. See all posts by John Dotson