Is Watcher Based on a True Story?

Helmed by Chloe Okuno in her directorial debut, ‘Watcher’ is a somber and slow-burning psychological thriller movie that occasionally reverts the male gaze. It revolves around Julia, who moves into a neighborhood in Bucharest with her husband Francis, who has gotten a job there. No sooner does she settle into her new apartment than she discovers a spooky neighbor looking intently at her. The news of a serial killer running amok in the neighborhood does not alleviate her woes. Gradually, Julia descends into paranoia, as nobody believes her.

The movie has garnered much praise following its Sundance premiere, owing to the ambiance and the production, while special mention goes to Maika Monroe’s cerebral performance as the lead Julia. The film marks director Chloe’s feature directorial debut. Although, she is by no means a new face in cinema, as her short ‘Slut’ won multiple awards, leaving the critics in awe. However, you must be wondering whether the film is ripped from the newspaper headlines. If the thought is bugging you, let us look for answers.

Is Watcher a True Story?

No, ‘Watcher’ is not based on a true story. But the movie’s examination of the omnipresence of the prying male gaze in a woman’s life holds truth. Chloe directed the movie from an original script by Zack Ford, but she re-edited the screenplay at length. As she reminded the viewers in an interview, the movie’s core remains simple, allowing the director to immerse the audience into the mind of an increasingly paranoid woman psyche. In its stripped-down essence, ‘Watcher’ is about a woman who feels that she is in danger but cannot convince anyone of it.

Over the years, there have been multiple iterations of the story in the cinematic medium, from Alfred Hitchcock’s classics like ‘Rear Window’ to the Amy Adams starrer ‘The Woman In The Window.’ However, very few films have been able to capture the all-encompassing alienation as this movie. According to Chloe, the movie took around six years to make, as the script went through several revisions. Zack Ford based his script in New York, drawing from his personal experience while living in the city. He wrote it while he was living in Manhattan.

The screenwriter had the idea of telling the story because he was fascinated with how moving into a new city can instill a degree of dread and paranoia. Nonetheless, Ford consciously left some room for appropriation, and the narrative was not dependent on the setting. Chloe came to the script, deciding to move the struggle of Julia to Bucharest, per the wishes of the producers. While the decision was a financial move amidst a raging pandemic, Chloe was also surprised at how well the Bucharest setting intensified the story’s ambiance.

New York would be mundane since the avenues of communication would remain open to Julia in the presence of a common culture and language. But in the backdrop of bleak Romania, the overwhelming presence of the other and Julia’s subsequent loss of self becomes all the more cathartic, since the character is in a wholly new and alienating surrounding. She doesn’t know the language and has no one to speak to, while the gawker’s shadow presence makes much of the recipe of horror. As a woman, Chloe was more attuned to Julia’s experiences, and she brought a degree of empathy into the script.

Moreover, the director paid attention to minute details, from lighting to wardrobe, to bring out the total effect of the horror. For example, Julia wears bright clothes at the beginning of the movie. However, after discovering the voyeur in the apartment across the street, her attire becomes more neutral, mimicking the colors of her surrounding. The suggestion is that she almost wants to make herself invisible to escape the menacing presence of the peeping tom. Therefore, even if the story of ‘Watcher’ is fictional, the director has imbued the scenes with unmistakable realism.

Read More: Where Was Watcher Filmed?