Starring: Clea DuVall, Elizabeth Whitmere, James A. Woods, Victoria Sanchez, Morgan Kelly
Director: Jim Donovan
Cassie (Clea DuVall) is struggling to finish her psychology thesis on post-traumatic stress disorder in children and is relieved when Professor Bateman (Matthew Kabwe) grants a one month extension to his students. Finding it hard to focus on the thesis, Cassie decides to accept a four week assignment as a “firewatch” officer – a person stationed in the woods who alerts the ranger if they see a fire. She reckons the secluded nature of the job (she will live alone in a log cabin for a month) will not only give her time to work on her thesis but also help her attempts to overcome her own inner demons – a deep-seated fear of the dark that dates back to her own abduction when she was seven.
She is greeted by the slightly-aloof ranger Rhett (James A Woods) who helps her settle in to her post. But before long strange goings-on haunt Cassie. She sees shadows outside her cabin, furniture is moved around when she’s asleep and the only interaction she has are radio conversations with a fellow lookout called Polly. As the days pass, Cassie begins to have flashbacks. Could the creepy events be linked to her abduction nineteen years before?
For a low-budget TV movie “The Watch” does a lot of things right. The cinematography (by Manfred Guthe) is wonderful with a great use of autumnal colours and some beautiful pseudo-panoramic shots across the forest. Indeed, there is much to admire. The story is well-paced and doesn’t always choose the obvious plot device, leaving you expecting a horror cliché several times during the movie only for nothing to happen. This is, oddly, quite satisfying.
Director Jim Donovan is 37 years of age and has been directing since the mid 90s. Although mainly involved in TV series, “The Watch” could be a breakthrough movie for him. He does well with the material and teases some genuine tension in key scenes. It’s clear he enjoys working with James A Woods (they have previously worked together in “Naked Josh” and “Seriously Weird”) and the character’s ambiguity is played off well by both director and actor.
So, why the low mark? It was all going steamingly well … until the last 15 minutes. Donovan is let down by writer Ben Ripley (“Species III”, “Species 4: The Awakening”) who totally drops the ball, letting the story fizzle out disappointingly. We got from creepy psychological thriller to Scooby Doo in the blink of an eye. You’ll see a lot worse than this on TV but be prepared for the ending.