Greetings again from the darkness. It’s tough being the new kid. Moving to a new city with no friends is always a challenge. That’s especially true for a grown-up when the new city is in a country where you don’t speak the language – and you gave up your career to support your spouse who got a promotion to his home country. The first feature film from writer-director Chloe Okuno and co-writer Zack Ford is a bit of a throwback thriller that reminded me of some of Brian DePalma’s work in the 1970’s and 1980’s, while also recalling other genre films.
Maika Monroe (IT FOLLOWS, 2014) stars as Julia, wife of Francis (Karl Glusman, LOVE, 2015). Their new apartment has a large picture window that overlooks the run-down tenement located across the street. Julia immediately notices the shadowed figure of a man who appears to be watching her. Yes, the set-up reminds us of Hitchcock’s classic REAR WINDOW, though this one heads off in a different direction. The pressures of Francis’ new job keep him working long hours, which means Julia is left alone a great deal of the time. As a former actor, now ‘re-evaluating’ her career path, Julia spends the days walking the local streets and listening to language tapes. See, their new place is in Bucharest, Romania, and the language gap plays a huge role in casting her as an outsider in all social interactions.
But wait, there’s more! Local news reports detail a serial killer nicknamed “Spider” has been murdering and beheading women. So when Julia begins seeing that shadowy figure from the window everywhere she goes, she assumes he’s following/stalking her. Is he the serial killer? Perhaps the question is, who is the cat and who is the mouse? While making the point that the film so desperately wants to make, it does so in the least believable manner. Husband Francis dismisses her paranoia as that of a lonely woman – a reaction that seems absurd given the presence of a serial killer (Grace Kelly believed Jimmy Stewart!). Fortunately, filmmaker Okuno and the performance of Ms. Monroe prevent this from becoming an eye-roller for viewers.
As Julia and the “watcher” (played with a creepy stoicism by Burn Gorman, CRIMSON PEAK, 2015) continue to cross paths, Francis asks, “Is he watching you, or is he watching the person who is watching him?” It’s this attitude that every woman will recognize … being accused of having it be “all in her head”, and having concerns minimized by men (spouses, cops, doctors, etc). Ms. Monroe gives a subdued, quiet performance that works terrifically in this setting. She kind of glows on screen and excels at conveying the feeling of isolation that Julia experiences, some of it enhanced by her husband’s approach.
There are a couple of terrific scenes featuring Julia and her neighbor Irina (Madalina Anea), a single woman who understands Julia’s trepidation. Other excellent scenes include Julia going solo to the movie theater to watch CHARADE, a film from which Okuno obviously draws inspiration; and best of all, a scene on the train where Julia and the watcher come face to face and have one of the more uncomfortable conversations (with a wonderful prop) we’ll likely ever see on screen. Both actors are superb here.
The cinematography of Benjamin Kirk Nielsen and the score from Nathan Halpern perfectly correspond to the slow-burn pacing that lacks the typical ‘jump-scares’ that have become commonplace in thrillers. Despite some ‘iffy’ dialogue, the film is effective in isolating Julia and presenting the fear that women live with, while often having their feelings minimized. A strong ending sets up Chloe Okuno as a filmmaker to watch.
In theaters June 3, 2022 and On Demand June 21, 2022