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They’re Watching [2016] is the found-footage horror debut from directing duo Jay Lender and Micah Wright (Spongebob Squarepants, Call of Duty: Black Ops II). They’re Watching follows a small Home-Renovation Reality Show Crew into the heart of an ancient Eastern European village with a dark history.

The Obvious: So I know what you’re thinking, based on what you read above you’d probably glance at this movie on Netflix for all of 4 seconds before moving onto the next one, and I wouldn’t blame. On the surface They’re Watching has all the tell-tale signs of a mediocre horror film; relatively low budget, no-name actors, found footage, ominous title, trope-y characters, etc. Here’s the thing, though, against all genre odds They’re Watching manages to work on a lot of levels that elevates it significantly above the modern found footage money-grab spawns of Paranormal Activity. Without saying too much, the mythos of the film is heavily atmosphere based and deeply rooted in the geography of Eastern Europe, in part also paying homage to old school horror by playing into the Xenophobia of “strange Americans in a strange land”.  All of this leads to a surprisingly refreshing backdrop for a genre lousy with tired horror tropes.

The Not So Obvious: Right off the bat the film establishes itself as something that doesn’t take itself too seriously while being unique with the genre in setting it against the backdrop of a reality TV Crew, which greatly plays to the film's benefit. This provides a natural reason for the camera to be rolling at all times and thus avoiding most of the immediate found-footage pitfalls that so many films suffer from. In another surprising turn of events, They’re Watching gives the audience tons of breathing room to actually get to know the characters and is importantly a slow burn. In a world of cheap per-minute jump scares it’s nice to have a lot of moments to actually establish something between the audience and the characters, which is surprisingly effective due in large part to…

The Crew: Sarah (Mia Faith) the new-to-the-crew PA, Greg (David Alpay) the grizzled war journalist turned Reality TV Cam Op with a heart of gold, and Alex (Kris Lemche) the smarmy loudmouthed American caricature, all together make up the core crew of the film. Essentially the entire first act is devoted to grounding these characters and establishing their relationships. This is done very effectively and is one of the first times I’ve seen the found-footage genre used to such a naturalistic capacity, both setting up chemistry and providing an insight into fun intimate moments like drinking at a bar off-the-clock or cracking jokes when they’re supposed to be getting B-Roll. This setup between the characters allows a satisfying payoff when the film does inevitably take a turn for the more horror-oriented, and the slow burn sets a nice pace that makes the third act of the film feel earned. I’d also like to give honorable mention to Dimitri Diatchenko who played the skeazy “Only broker is best broker” Vladimir Filat, and to Carrie Genzel who played the quintessential (and completely spot on) nightmare Producer Kate. I know I’ve said it before, but man is it refreshing to see a relatively strong cast that I actually manage to care about in a genre where that is exceedingly rare.

The Inevitable: All this being said, you’ve got to take the good with the bad. While I do appreciate many aspects of They’re Watching and what it brings to the found footage table it’s not without its flaws. While managing to generally stay above found-footage schlock it too occasionally gets bogged down by not-so-subtle exposition, wavering acting, and a misplaced romance that doesn’t vibe tonally with the rest of the film. While They’re Watching is on the right track in a lot of ways and definitely a step in the right direction, it still doesn’t entirely manage to break free from the shackles and pitfalls of its genre.

The End: Overall, I enjoyed They’re Watching a lot more than I thought I would. It’s a solid film with a slow burn that leads to a hell of an ending which will leave you at the very least feeling like the film delivered on what it promised. Keep in mind though that this film will play heavily to you depending on your tastes. If you’re big on horror and are familiar with the standard vocabulary and lexicon of the genre, you’re probably going to get much more of a kick out of They’re Watching than the average movie goer. The technical aspects of the film are great, with a special shout out to the Art Department that brought the renovated house (where much of the action takes place) to life, and overall added to the tense, foreboding atmosphere of the film.

While not perfect in any capacity, if you’ve got 90 minutes to kill and you feel like spending some time with a Reality TV Crew in a creepy Eastern European town, there are far worse ways to spend your time.

They’re Watching
3.5Overall Score
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