31 Days of Reviews: They’re Watching (2016)

A television crew travels to rural Moldova for a follow up segment for their reality show. Unfortunately, the locals don’t take too kindly to strangers, and the crew isn’t good at lying low.

The premise for They’re Watching pretty much screams “found footage film”, so if that’s what you assumed, you are correct! When it comes to found footage films, there’s typically one of two ways they can go. It’s either a family who is experiencing paranormal phenomena and wants to capture it for their safety, or it’s a film crew that’s either attempting to make a movie or filming a TV show. In the case of They’re Watching, as you can see from the premise, it’s the latter.

There are many people who are sick of found footage films, and I can fully understand why. Ever since The Blair Witch Project hit the scene in 1999, audiences have been seeing several found footage films every year. By this point, almost 20 years later, there’s not really much that is surprising anymore. The audience is in on the joke now. When the films first started coming out, you may have been able to make some viewers believe that the events actually occurred. If that was a rare occurrence then, it’s nonexistent now.

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Why do we still make found footage films then? What is the point? For one, they can be a cheap alternative, and they can be filmed quickly. That’s a very good thing for horror films, considering that even the wide spread releases typically only see box office success in the first couple weeks of debut. Found footage films can also catch the interest of budding filmmakers who enjoy watching movies about making movies. In the case of They’re Watching, both of these statements probably ring true.

They’re Watching is one of those films where they stick a bunch of rowdy Americans in a foreign country. They do insensitive things that the locals don’t appreciate. Cue the xenophobia. For the most part, I couldn’t really find myself rooting for any of the characters.

You’ve got Alex, played by Kris Lemche, who is the snarky jerk. There’s Greg, played by David Alpay, the good guy. They’re joined by newcomer Sarah, played by Mia Faith, a fresh film school graduate. Then you’ve got Kate, played by Carrie Genzel, the no nonsense female boss (often called a bitch). On top of that, you have Becky (the woman they’re filming), played by Brigid Brannagh, and Vladimir (the seedy local realtor), played by Dimitri Diatchenko. These are your main characters. They’re all pretty flat to be honest. It’s like they’re cardboard cut outs that were never entirely characterized.

One of my biggest complaints for the movie’s story was Sarah, the film school grad. The movie often put her in scenarios where she was filming the subject, and the host was asking the subject questions. Sarah kept interjecting, often cutting off the subject before the question was entirely answered. The host, Kate (I said they often called her a bitch), would become understandably angry with Sarah. As a filmmaker and occasional camera operator, I could not understand why Sarah felt the need to speak? I thought Kate’s actions were completely justified, but the movie framed her as being in the wrong. Poor Sarah.. Big, mean Kate was mean to her. Sarah supposedly went to film school, so why isn’t she being professional?

Professionalism is definitely something you won’t find in the characters in this movie. They use company equipment to film their own childish antics. They take cameras into a local funeral, much to the understandable ire of the locals. Despite the fact that they’ve been filming everything thus far, the dialogue actually says “From now on, we’re filming everything” about an hour in. I had to throw my hands in the air and look for an imaginary audience for that one.

Supposedly They’re Watching is a horror-comedy. I could not tell that this was the case until the last 15 minutes of the movie. By that point, it does a dramatic U-Turn, and you couldn’t take it seriously if you tried. Maybe if I had watched the rest of the movie with that lens, I wouldn’t be complaining about it so much. Somehow I highly doubt that though.

I will say that Kris Lemche was probably the best choice they could have made for the character of Alex. He plays the snarky jerk very well throughout the movie, and in the end, when everything turns to crap, he really sells it. His final line is like slapping a bow on the They’re Watching package.

If you do choose to watch this movie, definitely try watching it from a horror-comedy perspective. Don’t take it seriously. Maybe that will make it better. Be warned though. It’s not funny enough throughout the majority of it for it to be considered a comedy in my book.

(Honestly, if I had seen this trailer first, I would have known it was supposed to be funny)

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