in ,

The Watcher


‘…one of the more compulsively trashy mystery dramas that Netflix have offered up…’

Netflix come in for something of a critical pummelling on this blog; for every Tick, Tick…Boom! gem, there’s plenty of weak sauce efforts like The Bubble that elicit a sigh of resignation; Netflix may have spent heavily on content, but surprisingly little of it has stuck. The streaming giant do come up with some watchable stuff, and The Watcher is one of the more compulsively trashy mystery dramas that Netflix have offered. With a big name cast, a deeply strange true story as inspiration and a central mystery that never quite settles, The Watcher is bespoke for the gossipy wine-swilling couch-potatoes who seem to be the target audience for Netflix.

American Horror Story’s Ryan Murphy is the creative force behind this adaptation of a magazine article called The Haunting of a Dream House by Reeves Wiedeman, but for once, there’s no supernatural theme here; this is a horror story about the poor attempting to climb the property ladder despite the rungs getting kicked away above them. Nora and Dean Brannock (Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale) and their two kids decant to a beautiful house in New Jersey that they can barely afford; she makes artisan pots, which isn’t much help, and he’s some kind of finance manager in NYC. Between them, they scrape together the funds required to make the purchase, but that’s just where their nightmare begins. Anonymous, threatening letters arrive in their mailbox from a mysterious figure known as The Watcher, but which one of their kooky neighbours could it be?

Mia Farrow steps up to the plate with a wonderfully nutty variation of Ruth Gordon’s Rosemary’s Baby character; her character Pearl Winslow may or may not be the head of a secret cabal, and Dean is warned they could be up against devil-worshippers. Estate agent Jennifer Calhoun (Jennifer Coolidge in rampant form) is keen to re-sell the house, so her motivation is obvious. Could she be in league with dodgy local copper Det. Rourke Chamberland (Christopher MacDonald) who seems as crooked as a Supreme Court judge and won’t give any credence to the Bannocks’ plight? The boyish new security man Dakota (Henry Hunter Hall) seems more interested in the Brannock’s teenage daughter than securing the house. Private eye Theodora Birch (Noma Dumezweni) always says considerably more than her prayers.  And neighbour Mo (Margo Martindale) is the neighbour from hell, or at least until she gets a shotgun blast to the face, but somehow that’s not the end of her pernicious influence…

Add in Flashdance’s Michael Nouri as a pretentious local architect, and our cup runneth over in terms of suspects. Or are they all in this together, an aging community rallying round to expect the interlopers? Farrow’s reverse casting is key; as with Rosemary’s Baby, this is a story of a young couple whose dream life becomes a nightmare as an predatory older generation seek to exploit the cracks in their relationship. Some details are casually skimmed over (making it big on the NYC artisan pottery scene is handled in a laughably offhand way), and the lack of a firm resolution will undoubtedly be a downer for some. But while The Watcher is daft and the final episode offers several twists too many in lieu of a proper denouement, at least Murphy, co-producing with Ian Brennan, takes the time to entertain the chattering crowds of Netflix with some old fashioned campy Grand Guignol.


Leave a Reply
  1. They used to have an arbitration board for clearing movie titles. This comes out at the same time as Watcher? What gives? Yul Brynner had a famous spat with Kirk Douglas over rights to use Spartacus as a title.

  2. Creepy paranoia vibe when one realizes we are ‘watching the watched being watched’… & that this is loosely based on 2 stories torn from NJ headlines adds to the yikes factor. Although, the family that bought the house (in real life) never, ever moved in. The world has had Watchers for many millennium, from Enoch and his fallen angels, aka egregores and Grigori to the semi mythical groups described in books, like Rice’s Talamasca watchers, Highlanders Watcher/recorders, James Rollins Bone Labyrinth hybrid Watcher species from Atlantis and the Dresden Files White Council Watchers, not to mention all sorts of voyeurs and then there’s journalists, the ultimate watcher/detailer. This is one of the rare times when location, location, location isn’t as important as who is your neighbor. Great description of the threads weaving through this series. Who will be pulling blinds down and checking locks when watching Watchers?

    • Who watches the Watchers? Good question. Journalists, as you suggest, are for the watching in the first place, and I include myself in that. The house, and the location looks great, but there’s few things worse that a fight with the neighbours, the people next door can be a nightmare, and so it proves here. Great to see all the bells that title rings with you, as always, bringing a literary, knowledge slant that runs rings around my humble description of the action. At least watching this encouraged me to watch Rosemarys Baby again, that’s coming up soon in the reviews, but I did love that the head Satanist is clearly decribes as being from Glasgow; who would have imagined it? I think Crowley is who they were referencing, but you’ll probably know best!

      • Burnt Offerings and Poltergeist are 2 other movies with house as entity factor; however in this case the Watchers are human nasties—but is it because it’s in their nature or is that NJ area on some weird parallel, vibrating ley lines cross section that taps into people’s emotions and exploits them? After reading these daily posts still amazed how you manage to provide excellent critiques for 1-2 movies a day plus watch the shows and take care of business!

        • It’s all smoke and mirrors! And loving film, that’s the secret if there is one, but appreciate the compliment! Having worked as a removals man in New Jersey, I can attest to the big houses and potential for ley lines causing strange and unusual behaviour! And it’s a cliche now that it’s the people being haunted, not the house, but the idea of the bad place goes back via Stephen King to pretty much more great supernatural stories…

  3. I read a novel once where a woman was trying to figure out which of the neighbors her husband was having an affair with. It didn’t have any creepy vibe like this one, but the “how well do we know our neighbors” is always a good theme.

    Solid “maybe” from me.

  4. With all of the “I don’t know my neighbors, not like in the good old days” hullaboo I always hear, I’d think this couple would be happy that someone, anyone, is taking an interest in them!

    Also, anyone who “makes it big” in pottery is probably filling those pots with “something” and being a drug mule. The couple should be thankful no mexican cartel warlords are giving them colombian neck ties!

    See, this couple has a lot to be thankful for…

Leave a Reply