★★★★☆ Julia (It Follows’ Maika Monroe) moved with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) from New York for a new marketing job in Bucharest. Spending her days alone and struggling with the language barrier, Julia begins to feel spied on from the apartment opposite.
Julia (It follows Maika Monroe) moved with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) from New York for a new marketing job in Bucharest. Spending her days alone and struggling with the language barrier, Julia begins to feel spied on from the apartment opposite. Her fears grow as several local women are found murdered, while her worries are dismissed by an increasingly distant Francis.
Rooted in the center of Observer, writer-director Chloe Okuno uses the concept of perspective to create both a gripping thriller and a compelling study of patriarchal violence. Her directorial debut is a tense if predictable psychological thriller, somewhat in the mold of Rosemary’s baby Where The tenant. There are also nuances of Italian giallo — though Okuno’s cold visual style is a world apart from the grim gratuitousness of Argento’s or Dallamano’s movies. The main difference, however, is that in a film about women being killed by a voyeur, Observer is told exclusively from the point of view of the next potential victim.
Throughout the film, Okuno resists the temptation to shift perspective towards the killer, perhaps breaking the only universal rule of serial killer cinema since Voyeur. Instead of reigniting tired debates about the “male gaze,” Okuno reframes voyeurism like a mirror; when Julia is watched, she looks back. Indeed, threatened by the killer, dismissed by her husband and ignored by the police, Julia’s gaze is her only recourse to power, a reflection of the violence inflicted on her.
Okuno typically frames his shots from a distance with long lenses through windows, doors, or hallways. In one scene, Julia watches herself on grainy CCTV as she searches for her stalker. Many of these shots superficially mimic typical killer POV shots, but they rarely replicate the actual perspective of the stalker. Instead, they represent an imaginary perspective projected outside by Julia; these snaps are both a manifestation of her fear and an attempt to protect herself by exhaustively imagining all the hidden places the stalker might be watching her from.
Julia is convinced that her neighbor in the building across from hers (played with creepy creepiness by Burn Gorman) is the man responsible for the local killings. In the film’s first two acts, it doesn’t matter whether he’s the killer or not – the point is that she’s rightly frightened by his odd behavior, which her husband gleefully dismisses. Predictably, the only person supporting her is Julia’s next door neighbor, Irina (Madalina Anea), whose job as a sex worker has provided her with plenty of experience with voyeuristic creeps.
In thriller form, Observer is entertaining despite a highly predictable plot, with a conclusion that’s both satisfying and unsurprising (although a late development involving Irina is disappointing by heart for a film otherwise so dedicated to undermining misogynistic cinematic tropes). Okuno Observer is smart, engaging, and clever, and it’s especially refreshing to see this sort of mid-budget adult genre film get a proper theatrical release.