THEY’RE WATCHING Review
Be honest. We’ve all done it. Some of us willingly and with no apologies, while others of us are closet fans, but those reality real estate shows are popular and addictive. Perhaps it’s because they tap into a core element of the American dream, but whatever the reason, they’ve made an impact on what television looks like these days. With that said, it only seems logical that some creative soul would take this phenomenon and mash it up with another modern cultural trend.
The graphic novelists and animators Jay Lender and Micah Wright have done just that, they wrote and directed this melding of reality-based home shopping shows with found footage, faux-documentary style horror-comedy. That’s right. No, I didn’t stutter or lose my mind. This is a thing. A real thing. I know, your reaction right now is probably quite similar to mine when I first heard of this film, but after reading a bit more about the plot and then watching the trailer, I saw an intriguing level of potential just under the surface.
THEY’RE WATCHING, despite our most instinctual better judgment, is actually a fun, smart and entertaining romp. Blending a filmmaking influence from the Raimi brothers with tongue-in-cheek humor and a subtle knack for the breaking of the fourth wall, the film makes fun of it’s multi-faceted genre base, makes fun of itself and makes for a good time. The story takes place in Moldova, which provides a setting and a backdrop combined with it’s sense of humor that will please any fan of Bruce Campbell’s THE MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN. I realize that’s a double-edged sword, but take you’ve got to take this film with a grain of salt and appreciate it for what it is, by design.
Stereotypes abound. Akin to Sasha Baron Coen’s BORAT, but less extreme, the Moldovan town folk in the film are simple, creepy and primitive in comparison to the western crew. The town’s constable is a stern, dictatorial man resembling Stalin and the town’s one and only real estate agent, aka “broker,” is an Eastern European mix of Johnny Bravo and Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s VACATION films. All the town folk are heavy drinkers and are afraid of the cameras, but in the end, they are merely play as pawns and fodder, as the plot slowly unveils their secret about a witch that must never be mentioned.
Becky (played by Brigid Brannagh) is the latest client on a popular real estate reality show, an artist who wishes to settle down to a simpler, slower life in Eastern Europe. Six months after Becky decided to buy a fixer-upper deep in the backwoods of a small, rural town in Moldova, the production crew of the show returns to shoot the second half of the episode and see what improvements Becky has made to the property. Fully expecting disaster, the crew arrives to find she’s pulled out a miracle and the property looks great. Seems like it’s going to be an outstanding episode after all…
That’s about the time things start getting weird. THEY’RE WATCHING is a title that has a duel meaning, referring both to the Moldovan town folk, and [of course] acknowledging the meta element of the film, about a reality TV show, that has an audience separate from those of us watching this film. Follow that? Anyway, Lender and Wright make no effort to be taken seriously. That’s not the goal. The entire film feels like an inside joke, and for the most part we get it. And it’s funny. The production looks like hi-definition digital video because it’s supposed to, and most likely is as it’s not a big budget film. On the other hand, it looks good, as good as any well-made respectable TV movie. This is higher caliber production than the Syfy Channel but not quite prime time. For the most part, the acting follows this same scale.
As the plot thickens and the tension increases — for the characters, not quite so much for the audience — THEY’RE WATCHING prepares for the money shots… or, shots, as the film’s final act is the cherry on top. Whatever minor flaws and discrepencies may exist are easily forgotten once the rib-jabbing jokes and cliche horror movie tendencies segway into the big showdown with the witch at the end.
If you thought witches were boring 17th century borefests or cheesy kids’ fare, beware. The film ends on a high note with a bloody, goretastic, over-the-top splatterfest that will make genre lovers proud, or sad, depending on what expectations you had going int the film. For those who enjoyed TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL and CABIN FEVER, you should most likely find THEY’RE WATCHING to be a satisfying, lower-calorie samplng of cinematic junk food.
THEY’RE WATCHING — In Theaters and On Demand — March 25th, 2016
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Hopeless film enthusiast; reborn comic book geek; artist; collector; cookie connoisseur; curious to no end