It just doesn’t feel like the October Horrorshow until the first review of a found footage flick has been posted. This year the honor goes to They’re Watching, the 2016 film from writing and directing duo Jay Lender and Micah Wright.
The film follows the crew of a home improvement reality show. They are going back to Moldova six months after the subject of an episode, Becky Westlake (Brigid Brannagh), bought and began to rehab a dilapidated house in the woods. The place looked like a total lost cause. It had been empty for decades. All the glass had been broken. Walls and floors had been exposed to wind, rain, freezing, thawing, vandalism, and everything else that causes an abandoned building to slowly fall apart. The best thing would have been to knock it down and start over. But, when the crew arrives on site, after a somewhat harrowing journey to the house, they find that Becky appears to have done a top-notch job.
The crew, led by the acid-tongued Kate (Carrie Genzel), isn’t all that thrilled to be in Moldova. They see the place as a backwater, and end up coming across as boorish to the locals. Things really become heated when two of the crew, Sarah and Greg (Mia Faith and David Alpay) are caught filming the funeral of three children. It’s all their guide, Vladimir (Dimitri Diatchenko), can do to keep the locals from being violent, especially after Sarah uses the word ‘witch’ in public. The locals are a little sensitive about witchcraft, having burned one at the stake less than a hundred years earlier. Superstitious religious beliefs are the norm in the area, and distrust of outsiders is strong.
After returning in haste to the house, it is laid siege by axe-wielding locals. They smash the crew’s van to bits and prevent anyone from leaving. The remainder of the film follows the crew and Becky as they try to wriggle out of their desperate straits. But, the locals aren’t the only threat they have to deal with. The locals’ fear of the supernatural might be well founded.
A lot of found footage flicks get bogged down in genre stuff. This film wallows in it intentionally. This isn’t a straight horror flick. It’s also a black comedy, full of more levity than tension. It handles the expected tropes, such as the obligatory found footage night vision sequence, with tongue firmly in cheek.
The last member of the crew, Alex (Kris Lemche), also acts as the film’s comic relief, always on hand to show some snark. It’s a credit to his performance that as catty as the character is, he doesn’t get annoying. A little overacting would have been all that was needed to make Alex unbearable.
In general, the cast does well with the material. It’s not heavy on jokes. It relies more on situational humor than gags. That pushes most of the frightening stuff to the background, but it still has a smattering of scares and gore here and there.
More than anything else, They’re Watching is just a competent film. A little more cash in the budget could have worked wonders for the CGI during the climax, but that’s the only big criticism I have. There’s not much to make this film stand out in the found footage subgenre of horror, but in a subgenre where so many films are so, so bad, it’s nice to find something decent.