Chicago Critics Film Festival: Watcher Review

There are many real-life scenarios in the world we live in that make people feel unsafe and insecure. Watcher is one of those thrillers that lures its audience in with creepy fragments. Thehorror as seen through the eyes of actress Maika Monroe feels real. Watcher is directed by Chole Okuno, and this may be one of her most stylish directing projects yet. Okuno has a keen eye for what disturbs her viewers, and she carries that disturbance throughout Watcher. The film is set in a world of misbelief and terror for one individual who fears for her safety day in and day out. Fans will struggle to grasp the potential outcomes of what is to come of Watcher. The struggling, however, is what makes Watcher destined to be a masterpiece horror flick.

The film takes place in Bucharest Romania. Monroe plays Julie, a young actress living with her boyfriend and starting a new life. Her boyfriend is Francis, and he is played by Karl Gusman. Francis has a successful career, and Julie stays home. She enjoys her happy life with little to no financial responsibility in their luxurious apartment. All that changes when she realizes a man is watching her apartment from his window and looking right at hers. As she begins to question her safety many more realizations arise which lead to confusion for herself and Francis. Julie feels she is stalked, and Francis does not believe it is that serious. The stalking grows even more pervasive, and Francis struggles to be on the same page as Julie. As the days and weeks go on, Julie feels her safety is more at risk which takes her to a breaking point. Watcher kept me curious about when the man who is watching Julie would carry out his evil duty.

The image of the happy couple in the beginning of the film becomes quickly tainted. The situation becomes more dangerous when Julie puts herself at increased risk by getting authorities involved. However, the man who is watching her has some added motives which only lead to more trust issues for Francis. At that point, what Francis thinks or feels does not matter, it is whether Julie will be safe or not. The growing tensions as thestalker gets closer creates an atmosphere of uncertainty in Watcher.

My head was spinning during Watcher due to the plot combined with the in-depth psychological horror. Psychological scenarios in films can go in many directions. Watcher stays on asuspenseful track and makes the audience feel like they are taking an evil journey during the film. Audience members are left to ask them questions like: Is Francis at fault in any way? Is Julie crazy? Is her stalker that dangerous? The film has answers to all those questions, but many of the outcomes are mesmerizing and unexpected.

Another notable element in this movie is the realism of the terror. I felt the stalking seemed real, and the violence did too.Watcher depicts many details of what creepy and scary can look like in today’s world. It is a thrill ride of suspense with little to no time to find the answers.

I was hooked on this movie and the innocence Monroe’s acting. She is brilliant in films where she is the one facing various dangers ahead of her. She displays the same level of terror as she did in It Follows (2014). Only this time around, she is the one trying to stop what is possibly going to kill her. Three and a half stars for Watcher.

Downton Abbey: A New Era review

The Downton Abbey franchise continues with Downton Abbey: A New Era. The family we love is back, the music of John Lunn returns, starting with a breathtaking introduction, and there is a new world of excitement. 

In Downton Abbey: A New Era, the characters we love return, including: Robert Crawley, played by Hugh Bonneville; Lady Mary, played by Michelle Dockery; Violet Crawley, played by Maggie Smith; Lucy Smith, played by Tuppence Middleton; Jack Barber, played by Hugh Dancy; Cora Crawley, played by Elizabeth McGovern; Imelda Staunton, played by Maud Bigshaw; and many more wonderful characters.

The year is 1929, when films are transitioning from silent movies to the “talkies”. For obvious reasons, this was a seismic innovation in film technology. And since I am a movie fanatic on many level, the focus on this era is one of the big reasons I loved this film so much.

The plot of Downton Abbey: A New Erainvolves the Crawley family journeying to the South of France to investigate the dowager’s countess’s newly inherited villa. The film has many revelations, new adventures, and new feelings for many of the characters we love. Lady Mary, whose husband is always away, feels she is falling in love with the director of a film being shot there. Maggie Smith delivers a lovely and fashionable performance as she did in the first film and the series.

Although much of Downton Abbey: A New Era will feel familiar, the Crawley family does, again, face new challenges and they cross new boundaries, bringing some unexpected excitement. So fans should be ready for some changes. But on balance it is a film of joyous adventures and heartfelt moments, and it is wonderfully moving. I loved its pace and how it enlightened a crucial era in cinema development, and I just loved the film overall. Three and a half stars for Downton Abbey: A New Era.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Review

The number one post-pandemic movie, released in December of 2021, was Spiderman: No Way Home. The sixth highest grossing movie ever made, it brought in $1.89 billion. Less than six months later we have Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. It will be interesting to see just how much this next installment in the franchise can yield, but from a reviewer’s standpoint, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a good, but not amazing film.

With Benedict Cumberbatch reprising his role as Dr. Stephen Strange, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness continues the catastrophic events surrounding the Marvel cinematic universe, basically picking up where Spiderman: No Way Home left off. But this time the multiverse has hit uncharted territory, with superheroes coming to earth from many universes to serve a purpose—that is, to serve the Multiverse of Madness.

As the film begins, Dr. Stephen Strange is back with his magic and powers. His buddy Wang, played by Benedict Wong, is also back and he still has his sorcery skills and funny moments. But for Strange, the world around him is about to crumble because the errors of the multiverse cannot be reversed. A forbidden spell has been cast by him, and the door to the multiverse takes him to a place of many evils, where there is an alternative version of himself. Also on the dark side with her powers is Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen. But with the help of a stranger from the multiverse, America Chavez, played by Xochitl Gomez, there may yet be hope for the multiverse. Having Karl Mordo, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, in the mix complicates things, though.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madnessis a lighthearted continuation of the Marvel franchise with many surprises and hidden gems. Where the film starts to fall apart is in the setup between the protagonist, Strange, and the antagonist, Wanda. The setup is fragmented, scattered throughout the film. I found myself thinking, “Okay, we know this, move on.” But Olsen does deliver a killer evil witch character.

I will end this review with a positive aspect of the film. The illusions of powers through the minds of Strange and Wanda are deep and cinematically enthralling. As the teleporting of many universes occurs, fans will know there are more disasters waiting to happen—more disasters and more fun along the way. Though it didn’t quite meet my expectations, the film is a good setup looking forward to future Marvel projects. Three stars for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Treating cinema in many forms of art!

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