*Read In Russian-y Accent* “Only found-footage horror comedy in Moldova iz BEST found-footage horror comedy in Moldova” – right? Sorry Dorothina, you’re not in Pavloka anymore. There’s a big cinematic world out there filled with found-footage hopefuls and, unfortunately, They’re Watching is pretty middling by comparison.
Filmmakers Jay Lender and Micah Wright do their best to conjure a witchy Eastern European tale when a reality show crew returns to detail a drastic home makeover. Home Hunters Global unites prospective buyers with fixer-upper dumps, and after an initial sale, host Kate Banks (Carrie Genzel) returns to update viewers on the progress.
In Kate’s latest season, Becky (Brigid Brannagh) and her soccer-playing husband Goran (Cristian Balint) bought the “worst house in Moldova,” and it’s time to witness the transformation. Kate returns to Pavloka with her camera duo, Alex (Kris Lemche) and Greg (David Alpay), along with Sarah (Mia Faith), who happens to be the showrunner’s niece. But these Americans don’t exactly get a warm welcome and have to deal with backlash from the locals. Can these hunters finish filming before tensions boil over? Or is this charming colonial abode hiding a dark secret?
I mean, it is. Duh. Becky’s house is most certainly the setting of something far more sinister than shitty reality television (if that’s possible), because They’re Watching wouldn’t be a HORROR comedy otherwise. This is something we know, and something that the film’s script continually teases (even though characters remain oblivious). But as the film presses on, never delivering any real bouts of fist-clenching, scare-worthy horror, we realize this tourist trap is only a genre film by theme, not execution. Comedic dialogue reigns supreme, along with a jovial score that reminds of upbeat Gogol Bordello songs – not haunting paranoia.
In measuring They’re Watching‘s disproportionately more prominent comedy commitment, there are yucks to be had. Kris Lemche and David Alpay strike a fun-loving chemistry as two give-no-shits production stereotypes, damning their boss while spouting vulgar sexual comments along the way. Mia Faith’s character, Sarah, only fuels their sarcasm by lighting a hormonal fire in the goofballs, where Greg woes through subtlety, while Alex embraces a fratty juvenility peppered with innuendos reminiscent of American Pie. Mix that with the lovably Transylvanian charm of Vladimir (Dimitri Diatchenko), the group’s tour guide/realtor, and you’ll find some genuinely funny banter between off-camera voices and their in-focus counterparts.
That said, without a proper balance between horror and comedy, viewers searching for a terrifying jolt will be left cold and emotionless. Genre lovers are only presented a short finale that fully embraces a witch’s bloody, fire-spewing, head-removing rampage through the woods, but, until then, there’s not one iota of fear. Nothing. Not even a jump scare.
Like most found-footage visions, They’re Watching is built heavily on conversational charisma without much action. And, as already commended, some bits are quite funny, yet without any horror to supplement a dialogue-driven reality, the constant chatter becomes dead air. This is a payoff-heavy experience that will certainly test the patience of more seasoned horror vets expecting a bit more attention to chilling details.
Another sour note for genre fans comes when chaos erupts, channeling We Are Still Here and its citizen killing rampage once local villagers bum rush the surviving cast. As Alex and company fight for their lives, the film’s long-insinuated antagonist starts murdering villagers with ease, from hitting them like a soft-tossed baseball, to splitting them in half with magic spells. It’s carnage – but shoddily crafted CGI carnage. Shades of night mask weaker animated effects, yet there’s still a disappointing lack of practicality to the brutal deaths being caught on camera. We’re not talking Dracula 3D bad, just direct-to-VOD disappointing.
In the end, They’re Watching is a far-too-harmless comedy featuring a falsely advertised mean streak that comes up miles short. You’ll chuckle, but what we have here is another weighted scale that tips unfavorably in the direction of laughs – not a blended product. Even just a few plotted fake-outs would have helped keep audiences on their toes, no matter how cheap. Something, ANYTHING devious. Not just witty (or witless) banter about shagging broads, and vague attempts at suggesting action worth waiting for. “Waiting” being the key word here.
Viewers looking for the minimal amount of horror in their horror comedies will be appeased with They're Watching, but the focus here is on laughs, not chills - and that won't work for audiences seeking an equal balance between genres.