A forest in the middle of Ireland seems to trap anybody who steps inside it in its own warped sense of time and space. An American protagonist languishes in a foreign country, mired by the tragedy of her past. Oh, and entities that seem to gain enjoyment from being observers of the humans they trap for a strange reason. Ishana Shyamalan’s first feature, ‘The Watchers, ’ based upon A.M. Shine’s novel of the same name, has the ingredients to build upon its premise that draws upon the fairy tale and dreadful horror. It certainly has the tone and a feel down. Despite these strengths, ‘The Watchers’ quickly introduces story threads that are not acknowledged for a resolution or left hanging as outliers to something completely different than what it initially intended. Some things make you want to applaud its ambitions but leave you perplexed in the same breath. 

At the center of this tale is Mina (Dakota Fanning), a woman who would rather be anybody else but herself. When we first meet her, she’s working in a pet shop in Galway with an empty gaze, smoking from a vape pen. There’s something that happened in her past that has led to this fixation on loneliness and being closed off in an endless cycle. One day, her co-worker tasked her with transporting a parrot (she names Darwin) to a zoo in Belfast in a quick road trip. Mina reluctantly agreeds, but then runs into trouble – her car breaks down in the middle of a remote forest lush with foliage, but no other life. As night falls, Mina becomes justifiably scared at the growling in the winds. Birds quickly fly in the other direction of something. Right before Mina meets whatever bumps in the night, a woman named Madeleine (Olwen Fouere) comes to her rescue and leads her to a bunker. 

Photo Credit: Warner Brothers

It is there that we are given the basics (or the rules) that Mina, Madeleine, and two other survivors Ciara (Georgina Campbell) and Daniel (Oliver Finnegan) have to abide by to stay alive in “The Coup.” For starters, do not under any circumstances leave “the coup” at night, and the four have to stand in front of a huge mirror as some sort of “entertainment” for the forest creatures. When you go outside during the day, there is a specific place that you are not supposed to go. Oh, and not to mention, Ciara, Daniel, and  Madeleine have been in this place for months with no way out. It’s here Shyamalan establishes the mystery, and Eli Arenson’s cinematography illuminates how dangerous things can be. At least in the first part of ‘The Watchers,’ there’s a messy sense of what these veracious captors are that adds to the tension. They shapeshift and are violent, but are obscured to the sense that makes you feel danger for these characters. 

Once that allure disappears, the film starts to crumble under the weight of its ambitions. There are hints of backstories for the other characters besides Mina that might be intriguing to dive into, but they are not quite fleshed out. Critiques of reality television, like a faux Big Brother show played within the coup, don’t amount to anything. It’s a shame because the film takes on a more fantastical approach to storytelling in its second half, and there’s a bridge between how that premise spoke to the essence of the “Real World” mentality these things portray.

Instead, ‘The Watchers’ elects to play things more safely at the expense of the resolution the main character is seeking. Let’s say Mina was led to this forest on a quest to heal whatever has been serving as an emotional anchor. The film expects the resolution to impact you at the end, but most of the time before it is spent spinning its wheels on a quest for exposition. The human search for self-forgiveness is at the base of ‘The Watchers,’ but the bigger story of the world (and others interacting with it) stretches the film in ways that don’t do what the story could be justice. 

Main Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures