They’re Watching (2016)
★ / ★★★★
The worst horror-comedies are the ones in which the events yet to transpire can already be seen from a mile a way. “They’re Watching,” written and directed by Jay Lender and Micah Wright, belongs in such a trash heap. To add insult to injury, the film is neither scary nor funny, just full of irritating characters with nothing interesting or worthy of note to say or do. This is a critical mistake because we must endure the horrible company of this television crew until, during the last fifteen minutes, one by one they meet their grisly demise.
The plot revolves around a crew attempting to put together an episode of “House Hunters Global” in a remote village in Eastern Europe. The subject is Becky (Brigid Brannagh), a woman from Los Angeles who moved to a dilapidated home with her boyfriend six months prior. Since then, a lot of work has been put into the house and is now unrecognizable from the disrepair featured on a previous episode. Soon, however, based on their interactions with the locals, the TV crew begin to feel as though every move they make is being watched. It is common knowledge that in the past, villagers burned witches at the stake.
Too much effort is put into making the three central characters likable that the material neglects to create an increasingly strange, eerie, and creepy vibe. Sarah (Mia Faith) is new to the business and her inexperience shows by speaking out of turn during interviews; Alex (Kris Lemche) is so egocentric that he thinks an absence of filter between his brain and mouth is actually charming; and Greg (David Alpay) is supposed to be the most mysterious because he is the most silent and least obnoxious. But the writer-directors fail to ask: Why are these three the conduit to the story when none of them really takes their careers seriously. Because if they don’t care, we don’t either.
I enjoyed the simple but convincing look of the locals and some of the places we visit, particularly the church where Sarah and Greg sneak a camera inside after they have been warned that no recording of any type is allowed. The church has a creepy feeling about it—minimal lights, almost claustrophobic, the details found on walls imply that it is a very old building with plenty of history. But when three corpses are revealed eventually, the gathering turning out to be funeral, it is surely time to leave. But Sarah and Greg’s luck has run out.
There are so many ways to make a town with a history of murder and witchcraft interesting, but the material consistently squanders every opportunity to take off. Instead, we are presented a tired potential romance between Sarah and Greg—a mistake because the performers share no sexual chemistry. I found it awkward when they touch or kiss because it appears as though the actors don’t even want to get that close. If they don’t believe it, we don’t believe it. The writer-directors ought to have noticed this weakness from behind the lens. The responsible thing to do would have written around the potential romance and perhaps bulked up the mystery and intrigue. Is there not a library in that village so Greg, Alex, and Sarah could do some research?
I have not even started on the laughable final ten minutes. The visual effects are so brazen—brazenly bad—that it almost makes one consider whether it is supposed to be a parody. Almost. Instead, one gets a sneaky feeling that Lender and Wright did not have the imagination or inspiration to write something creative and so, like other filmmakers devoid of ideas, they relied on visual effects to create a semblance of, well, anything other than cutting to black. But I would preferred a black screen that signaled the picture being over because then it would have at least spared everyone fifteen valuable minutes.