Giddy They’re Watching Equal Parts Clever and Familiar
A reality television crew working for a program focusing on miraculous home improvement stories heads to a small Eastern European village for a six-month checkup on American expat and artist Becky Westlake (Brigid Brannagh). She purchased a dilapidated farmhouse located in a secluded portion of the woods with the intent to return it to its former glory, and now producer Kate Banks (Carrie Genzel) has returned with her production team to see how everything is going.
At first all goes as planned, but when cameraman Greg Abernathy (David Alpay) and intern Sarah Ellroy (Mia Faith) clandestinely attempt to film a funeral service for a trio of recently deceased children, the villagers take umbrage in regards to their heartless intrusion. It sets a tone that puts everyone on edge, especially sound tech Alex Torini (Kris Lemche), only gregarious and good-natured guide Vladimir Filat (Dimitri Diatchenko) certain everything will blow over as long as they walk the straight and narrow for the remainder of their visit.
The horror-comedy hybrid They’re Watching is sprung from the minds of writer/directors Jay Lender and Micah Wright. The former is most well known for his Daytime Emmy-nominated work on “Phineas and Ferb” and “SpongeBob SquarePants,” while the latter cut his teeth writing the scripts for a number of best-selling video games including Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Together they are making their feature-length debuts behind the camera, assembling a found footage-style shocker revolving around the exploits of Cable television crew stranded in the middle of a potentially supernatural situation they haven’t the first clue as to how to survive.
There’s not a lot new to any of this, and the surprising twists and turns that transpire during the final act are hardly shocking. But there is a level of quality that’s a little unexpected, while all of the actors do a fairly terrific job of exploring their respective characters, at least in so much as much as the genre and storytelling dynamics allow them to. There is also a whimsical streak running through events that recalls Lender’s animation filmography. As for Wright’s background in the video game realm, the first-person shooter theatrics of the last ten minutes will be familiar to anyone who has ever picked up a PlayStation or X-Box controller.
But the effort is much too obvious for its own good, and while the cutthroat pyrotechnics are relatively impressive, they’re also callous and unforgiving, things taking on the decidedly distasteful aura of a snuff film, the filmmakers dispatching one character in particular with a jovial heartlessness I didn’t care for. Lender and Wright also take forever to get to the climactic craziness, the first two-thirds lacking in tension as all of the characters wander somewhat aimlessly towards their potential oblivion.
All the same, there’s plenty to get excited about as it pertains to They’re Watching. Lender and Wright infuse things with a Sam Raimi-like absurdity that allows the gory mayhem to have a surrealistic spunk that had me giggling madly at almost all the right moments. I also liked that the filmmakers gave their talented cast, most notably Brannagh, Alpay and especially Faith, room to build their characters even if the storytelling device being utilized typically handicaps actors from doing just that. While I can’t say this film won me over, I can admit that it kept me watching, start to finish, even its missteps hinting that both Lender and Wright have considerable talent I can’t wait to see them explore in future projects hopefully sometime relatively soon.
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)