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

‘The Watchers’ Is a Stellar Horror Debut for Ishana Night Shyamalan

Few horror movies weave as thrilling as a tale as Ishana Night Shyamalan’s The Watchers. Based on the book of the same name by A.M. Shine, it leaves you fearing what is in the darkness of the woods. Thrilling, mysterious, and twisting, it’s a great first outing for Shyamalan. 

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Mina (Dakota Fanning) moves to Ireland and shuts herself away from her twin sister, Lucy. The death of her mother is weighing on her, and it forces her to isolate herself from everyone. But when Mina is asked to transport a rare bird and has to drive it there, the GPS leads them to the middle of the woods. It is there that the car stops working, and she finds herself trapped in a world she never wanted to be a part of.

A lot of the film is about what is hiding in the woods. There are creatures who hunt those outside and alone at night, but they are also simply observing four humans who are trapped in a safe house. They let those who follow their rules live, and the group in the safe house must “perform” for the creatures each night. Mina finds herself trapped with three other people, standing before a big window and letting the Watchers lurk just beyond the glass. She is the newest addition and the one who fights back the most, but being trapped there means simply existing, not living. Madeline (Olwen Fouéré) tries to keep everyone there, while Daniel (Oliver Finnegan) and Ciara (Georgina Campbell) hang on to her every word until Mina tells them differently.

Each new night brings new horrors for the foursome to unpack, and I always found myself fascinated by it.

Fanning shines in horror

Dakota Fanning has plenty of genres under her belt as a young actress. Starting as a child, she cemented herself as one of our best actors. In The Watchers, she nails it in the quietness of Mina. A character who doesn’t want to open up isn’t always the easiest to bring to life, but Fanning sells the pain Mina is in through her eyes, promising the audience that there is always something weighing on her. 

For a film about creatures watching people in the night, the core four deliver surprisingly lively performances, even though their characters are trapped. There isn’t a moment of this movie where it feels like the tension isn’t there, and it all boils down to Shyamalan’s storytelling ability. 

Twists and turns that show Ishana Night Shyamalan’s skill as a filmmaker

Shyamalan had a lot riding on this in the eyes of horror fans. Her father, M. Night Shyamalan, is known for the twists in his own films. But for Ishana Night Shyamalan, she stayed true to her characters and let the source material speak for itself. She didn’t try to trick us, just taking us along the journey with Mina. 

It is a great introduction to horror for those who maybe fear it, but it is also a great introduction to how Shyamalan herself tackles the genre. It’d be easy to follow in the same steps (creatively) as her father, but The Watchers allows her to flex her own muscles as a creative. 

That’s not to say it’s perfect. There are issues with pacing at times, where the film feels like it’s dragging for no reason other than to show how long the characters have been trapped, but the mystery is still engaging and left me excited to see what Shyamalan is planning next. 

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.