Watch Over Us
There’s a presence in this house; it manifests itself as noises and other disturbances. Rapping against closed doors, light rumblings in the ceiling. There is a family living in this house; Jon, the single father. His daughters, Becca and Eliza. And their sick grandfather. They want to leave, but times are tough, money is tight, and they've been left with almost no options. They have to stay in this house. With the presence living here. With the presence living in the barn out back.
When Watch Over Us is stripped down to it's core elements, the above synopsis is exactly whats left. A haunted house/evil presence story that's a little bit cliché, but if properly nurtured can still grow into it's own unique horror experience. Writer/Director/Producer F.C Rabbath does not properly nurture this project though, instead focusing his efforts on some areas of the production more than others thereby creating a movie that feels incomplete. You can see this as we break the production down to it's direction, story, and cast.
The camera work is solid as we follow the standard routine of the family. Rabbath plays it fairly safe by not trying to dazzle us with obscure angles or disorienting views. He does however go a little overboard with his aerial shots, which I have to believe were captured using a drone (if not then he's using the world's largest camera crane). The first shot looked cool, it made a bit of sense. Then they kept unnecessarily popping up to the point where it felt gratuitous, like he was showing off his new toy.
As previously noted the basic story is more than familiar to all of us with one character even referencing two of the great films that laid the foundation for this project (The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror). Instead of showing the viewers what makes this movie and this story different from everything that’s come before it, the script briefly touches upon some possible themes without developing them any further. The main cast is a family dealing with everyday issues who now must face a supernatural “WTF!?” issue. So it would make sense to really focus on the family dynamic; the struggles for patriarchal leadership with the father; the bond between the sisters. There's also the explanation behind the supernatural events. An explanation which we walk into (seriously, we walk into a room and are handed the explanation). But it's just an answer to a question instead of an actual explanation. Even more infuriating is that the characters just take this revelation at face value. The family and the answer to the supernatural events are never explored or expanded upon, which feels like a wasted opportunity.
If any aspect of the production was truly underutilized it was the excellent main cast. Our main family father Jon (Daniel Link), oldest daughter Becca (Ella Schaefer), and youngest daughter Eliza (Avery Kristen Pohl) really worked well together creating a seamless bond between each other. Schaefer and Pohl reminded me of the young actors you see on TV dramedies (e.g. Riverdale), just less obnoxious. Their performances felt natural and relaxed, which is hard for some actors to achieve. Admittedly at times their moods seemed interchangeable between terrified and nonchalant which made it difficult to build any real sense of tension in the story. Link comes off as an enjoyable everyman actor; he works well as a lead, but I would be interested to see him as a supporting character, and definitely as a villain. There are a few supporting characters most notably Jon's son Sam (Hudson Meeks) and the ill Grandpa (Henry Tisdale), but we only see them for brief moments in the movie where they are only used to move the plot along.
This is what I meant when I said the film felt incomplete. Aspects of the camera work do not help to move the story along, characters and themes are not expanded upon, and the actors seemed like they should have had a better sense of direction with the story they were telling. Finally, the film only runs for approximately 65 minutes. Yes. The movie is just over an hour long. F.C Rabbath has a handful of directing projects under his name the majority of which are short films but he's also helmed some other feature length projects. What happened here? There was literally plenty of time to add more to this movie. Watch Over Us was fun at times, but in the end it left me wondering what happened to the rest of the film.