Critics Have Seen The Watchers, And Many Of Them Are Comparing It To Dad M. Night Shyamalan’s Work

Movies

There have already been quite a few horror movies in 2024 to keep audiences uncomfortable, and this summer we’ve got two from the Shyamalan family. Before M. Night Shyamalan’s Trap comes out in August, his daughter Ishana Night Shyamalan is making her feature directorial debut with The Watchers on June 7. Early reactions from The Watchers screenings noted similarities between the filmmakers’ styles (M. Night is a producer on the film after all), so what are critics saying about the film overall? 

Dakota Fanning stars as Mina, a guilt-ridden woman who happens upon a trio of strangers after her car breaks down in the forest. They tell her that each night they are watched and stalked by a group of deadly creatures. The film was adapted from the 2022 novel by A.M. Shine, and in CinemaBlend’s review of The Watchers, Nick Venable argues that despite some plot issues that carry over from the source material, Ishana Night Shyamalan’s first effort is a pretty successful one. He rates the movie 3.5 stars out of 5, writing: 

Nearly every single element, from Mina’s backstory to Ciara’s mental state to Madeline’s guidance, just stops making sense if the right question is asked. Not the worst cinema sin, but when that question so often starts with, ‘How on Earth…?’ it’s not so easily forgivable. Thankfully, Ishana Shyamalan imbues The Watchers with high levels of creepiness throughout, and has more than enough skills behind the camera to keep audiences invested in the woodsy weirdness. I truly cannot wait to see where her career goes next, and I’ll be adding some cushioning to the edge of my seat in the meantime.

A.A. Dowd of IGN agrees there are glimpses of storytelling expertise here, proving that the Shyamalan apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This story specifically, though, is more fun before your brain has to start trying to piece the twists together. Dowd gives The Watchers an “Okay” 6 out of 10 and says: 

The first feature written and directed by Ishana Night Shyamalan, doesn’t stray far from the twisty webs of intrigue and suspense weaved by her famous father. There’s plenty to admire in this mystery-box thriller about a group of strangers imprisoned by the eponymous, unseen woodland observers. If nothing else, Shyamalan has absorbed plenty of lessons about suspense and atmosphere from her time on the sets of like-minded movies like Knock at the Cabin. But the more The Watchers comes together, the less interesting it becomes. It’s a puzzle best left unsolved.

Owen Gleiberman of Variety calls the movie glossy and clever, though derivative of several horror movies that have come before it. Its twist ending isn’t as fun as it could be, Gleiberman says and with The Watchers lacking in the frights department, the jury is still out on whether Ishana Shyamalan is an up-and-comer or a one-shot nepo baby. The critic says: 

Ishana Night Shyamalan’s direction is mostly fine. Her screenplay is mostly a series of gambits piled on top of one another, adding up to a horror-movie crockpot, one that grows less creepy and effective as it goes along. We don’t have any great investment in the characters, and … the film [begins] to grow top-heavy with its mythology. Of course, it’s also a problem that if you’re going to play the busy and derivative mainstream-horror game, you’ve got to deliver, as in jump scares or moments that make us shiver in, you know, horror. The Watchers is too restrained for all that; it wants to be a kind of fairy tale. In this case, though, there’s too much impeccable pretension and not enough things that go bump in the Shyamalan night.

Chase Hutchinson of Collider, meanwhile, makes his opinion clear on the nepo baby question, saying Ishana Night Shyamalan’s debut doesn’t hold a candle to her father’s work. The only thing scary about The Watchers is how it drains its source material of any life, Hutchinson says, rating the film a 4 out of 10: 

Even as making eerie works about people thrown into terrifying situations is the family business, with the two previously doing great work together on the underrated series Servant and the flawed yet frightening Old, The Watchers sees the apple falling far from the tree and rolling into a dark pit that it never gets out of. Even as it benefits from having a largely solid cast, with both Dakota Fanning and Olwen Fouéré doing their darndest to plow through the most perfunctory dialogue you’ll hear this year, it is a losing battle that only gets worse the longer it all drags on. This is the nepo baby movie to end all nepo baby movies.

Meagan Navarro is also underwhelmed by how the movie plays out, saying the stakes are too low and the scares too few. The movie also continues far past what Navarro says is its logical ending. The critic gives it 2 skulls out of 5, writing:  

Shyamalan, like her lead protagonist, keeps the story and its characters shrouded in mystery for as long as possible, instead focusing on the ambient atmosphere and building up the threat with various intense near-misses and rule-defying encounters. The strong visual language and production design help lure you in, along with Shyamalan’s attempts to establish the unseen Watchers as something fearsome, and it’s easy to overlook just how underdeveloped the story and its characters are. But the more time passes, the less the humans’ choices make sense. Shyamalan seems to realize this, because when the movie finally seems to pick up its intensity for a third act confrontation, the filmmaker screeches the momentum to a halt to deliver nonstop exposition too superficial and clumsy to work.

Regardless of how successful the critics think Ishana Night Shyamalan’s directorial debut is, most of them are still curious to see how her style develops as she steps out of the large shadow of her father. If you want to give The Watchers a go, it hits the big screen on Friday, June 7, and you can check out our 2024 movie release calendar to see what else is coming soon. 

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