Whenever you find chance to trawl the DVD bargain bin at your local superstore, keep an eye out for this smartly done serial killer flick. Largely ignored during its release ten years ago, “The Watcher” features a top notch cast and a nifty look that most films of a similar subject lack. It may have gotten overlooked, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.
FBI agent Joel Campbell’s life is an utter mess. Catching serial murders has taken its toll on his battered psyche; he’s suffered a nervous breakdown and is afflicted with blinding migraines. But while he’s done with catching killers, one of his killers isn’t done with him. He’s followed Joel all the way to his home in Chicago; it seems the killer “misses” the relationship they had and wants to start anew. In the interest of keeping things interesting, he’ll mail Joel the photograph of one unnamed woman in the city; the police will have a set time to locate her or she’ll be killed. With lives literally on the line, Joel has to get himself together and face his darkest demons–or the game will never end.
James Spader plays Campbell, and you couldn’t have picked a better lead for this film. His performance evokes sympathy at his plight, but when his nemesis returns you can’t help but be in his corner. With Spader, the film has undercurrents of a redemption tale, of a man broken by evil but now given the chance to arise and slay it. Every hero needs an equally adept villain, and Keanu Reeves fills his part amazingly well. His serial killer oozes charm with a convincing smile, and you’re tempted to like him, if not for the fact he’s a cold blooded murderer. As Joel’s therapist, Marisa Tomei is fairly good, although her main purpose seems to serve as a damsel in distress during the finale. Chris Ellis is dryly funny as an FBI agent, along with Ernie Hudson in a cameo as Joel’s boss who’s willing to give him one last shot in the field.
Equally impressive is the script by David Elliot and Clay Ayers, who forge unusual relationships between the characters they’ve created. But they also bring in some interesting social commentary about life in a major city, about how people can still be isolated even in a teeming metropolis. Director Joe Charbanc does a stylish job with the proceeding, with help from cinematographer Michael Chapman. They weld the tired serial killer genre with MTV brand cool, giving us some great eye candy in the process. The music of Rob Zombie is used frequently, but it nicely works to give scenes an edgy feel.
“The Watcher” is a terrific serial killer film that possesses some amazing undercurrents. It also features a talented cast and a terrific production team. It all amounts to an impressive movie that doesn’t deserve to be banished to the Island of Misfit Films. If you come across this, pick it up without haste. You won’t be disappointed.
Joe Charbanic (director) / Darcy Meyers, David Elliot, Clay Ayers (screenplay)
CAST: James Spader … Campbell
Marisa Tomei … Polly
Keanu Reeves … Griffin
Ernie Hudson … Ibby
Chris Ellis … Hollis
Robert Cicchini … Mitch
Yvonne Niami … Lisa