Set in an Eastern European village, They’re Watching has all the visual trappings of a scary flick. Creepy staring villagers? Check. Middle-of-nowhere cabin? Check. Strange rituals and folk tales? Checkity check. It seems like it would pair well with a glass of wine — not scary enough for liquor, not funny enough for beer, and just jumpy enough to make red wine a daring possibility.
The premise is this: a camera crew treks out to Moldova to film a home-improvement show, following up on their initial visit six months earlier where homeowners Becky and Gorin purchase a fixer upper far out in the woods. In the episode, the couple, a douchey soccer player and his oblivious pottery-making girlfriend, guided by an overzealous realtor, decide to purchase a ramshackle cottage featuring a huge cellar. The film starts off as a funny tongue-in-cheek take on every HGTV show ever, with Becky dropping lines like, “I’m not sure if this is big enough,” in a burned-out bomb shelter of a bedroom.
Fast forward six months and a camera crew of three strikingly good-looking 20 somethings are driving a van out to the town nearest Becky’s renovated house. The entire movie is shot from one of the crew’s cameras, giving it the found footage feel of The Blair Witch Project, but without all the jerkiness. They’re professional camera people, after all, and they need to capture a ton of B-roll film.
They’re Watching includes the usual character types, making them likeable enough for you to care about whether they live or die, which is crucial in a horror flick, even ones that veer toward the silly side of things. There’s Greg Apernathy (David Alpay), a brooding cameraman who had something terrible happen to him while filming in Afghanistan — but he’s totally not going to talk about it. There’s Alex Torini (Kris Lemche), the goofy and obnoxious sound guy who likes to sleep with the TV show’s attractive homeowners. And then there’s Sarah Ellroy (Mia Faith), the gorgeous blonde film school student who’s probably going to sleep with Greg, because, well, of course.
The gang arrives in the Moldovan town, greeted by the show’s bitchy producer, Kate Banks (Carrie Genzel), and the local realtor, Vladimir Filat (Dimitri Diatchenko). Sarah and Greg set off on their B-roll film trek, flirting their way through cobbled streets, the perspective changing depending on who’s holding the camera. They wind up in a church for the funeral of three small children, a camera hidden inside Sarah’s jacket filming the whole thing. The camera makes a sound, and well, that can’t be good, right?
The townspeople freak out and we can only assume a mark has been put on the heads of these ridiculous, camera-wielding outsiders. Large men speak a foreign language and Sarah clings to Greg. It’s all the good shit you want from a scary movie.
After an evening swilling vodka with Vladimir, the crew treks out to Becky’s house, located miles outside of town. The night before Vladimir told everyone about the town’s most popular folk tale — that of the witch they burned just 100 years earlier. She was a witch because she lived alone and never went to church. Kind of like …
Becky, a redheaded, soft-spoken artist, is happy to greet the gang, proudly showing off her renovated home and pottery collection. And Gorin? Well, Becky says that he’s out of town at the moment, but should be back soon. She keeps asking the crew to head into her cellar — the reno she’s most proud of, but they keep putting it off, trying to get natural light shots of the outside of the house, including a shed where Becky keeps her pottery kiln.
Eventually townspeople start surrounding the area, wielding those same axes. Are they mad about the filming in church incident? Or is there more going on here? The angry ax-wielders end up trashing the van, leaving the camera crew stranded at Becky’s house overnight.
I won’t give away what happens, because that’s no fun, but I do highly recommend that you stop watching the movie at 1 hour, 17 minutes. Some weird shit has happened and the stage is set for more shit to happen. I promise you that your imagination can create a far better ending than what you end up getting.
The last 15 minutes of the film require a second glass of wine, in case you choose to sit through them. If the entire film had woven in absurd visual effects, I may have accepted the laser beams shooting out of someone’s eyes, and the Tarantino-esque gore spewing from bodies cut in half. But this stuff comes out of nowhere. Croaking frogs are supposed to be scary indicators of something scarier to come, and fail miserably. It’s a shitshow of shit. But it’s entertaining as all get out, and for that (and the first three quarters of the film), I’d watch the whole thing over again. With more wine, of course.
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