OTT Review: The Watcher is a beautifully-mounted adaptation of a ‘true story’

...that spooked an American family who moved to the suburbs from the city — into their ‘dream home’


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Thu 20 Oct 2022, 8:05 PM

In 1977, Jay Anson wrote The Amityville Horror — allegedly based on the real-life account of the Lutz family that moved into their suburban dream home (that they acquired for a song) somewhere on Long Island. Over the next four weeks, the Lutzes, individually and collectively, experienced a series of supernatural occurrences. It was revealed to them that the house had a dark, murky past, and whatever the family went through was apparently connected to its history. The book, controversial as it was (there were reports about how Anson, in cohort with the Lutzes, had fictionalised most of the happenings), became an immediate bestseller and, starting 1979, became the storyline for many movies.

A family — where each member is harbouring some sort of secret — moving from the city, with all its hustle and bustle, to a quiet, remote spot with whispering trees and strange sounds at nights, is always a good bet for movie or a show to bank on. With The Watcher — the new seven-part limited series that just debuted on Netflix — the ‘mysterious’ angle is heightened with the revelation that, like The Amityville Horror, this too is based on a ‘true story’. The difference is that this story is more topical because it (apparently) happened a few years ago, and — so far — no one has contested the veracity of its claim of being a ‘true story’.

Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan are the co-creators of The Watcher. It’s an interesting drop for another reason: The duo’s Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, the limited biographical crime drama which released on Netflix late last month, based on the life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, is also trending. Critics have been quick to point out that the serial is extremely dark and disturbing (even by OTT standards), almost exploitative, but it’s still garnering the hits. The Watcher, on the other hand, is fundamentally different in tonality. Less gritty, beautifully art directed.

To get back to the story, The Watcher begins with the Brannocks — Nora (Naomi Watts) and Dean (Bobby Cannavale — who plays Joe DiMaggio in the currently trending movie Blonde), and their two kids Ellie and Carter, buying a gorgeous property in New Jersey. They are sick of city life, and they want to “live” and “breathe” the American dream: picket fences, friendly neighbours and fresh air.

All goes well initially, even though their neighbours — led by Pearl Winslow (played by Mia Farrow) — are super-weird and nosy. And then suddenly they start receiving these eerie letters, which are signed ‘The Watcher’. The letter-writer tells them, in typewritten words, that he — or she — is watching them, while also talking about stuff they have been doing around the house, leading the Brannocks to believe it’s one of the neighbours playing a nasty prank.

The local police department — very suburban and laidback — seem very reluctant to do anything about the matter, and suggest they hire a private detective.

Whatever emerges points to a host of contradictions. Everyone appears to be a suspect, because everyone has a motive. But there’s also a ‘supernatural’ angle.

If you want to watch a gripping whodunit with some scary elements and gorgeous settings and lead actors, then The Watcher is definitely a good watch. The only problem is that it could have been slightly shorter for more impact.

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