As we move away from the 1970s and early 80s, the art of Italian Giallo films has quietly dwindled to being almost non-existent in modern cinema, with legendary directors of the subgenre being either moved on to another field (Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci) or grew old and lost touch (Dario Argento). A few brave directors have attempted to replicate the style in recent years. Most of them largely miss the boat, but a few have done well, like that of Maximiliano Contenti. The last morningand some have used the inspiration to create their own original films, such as James Wan’s clever. However, so far I’m not sure any have captured the true spirit of the cinematic style, which traditionally brought a Hitchcockian level of intensity to their stories, not only allowing the audience to guess who the killer is until at the very end, but also making us legitimately fear for the protagonist. These two extremely necessary boxes were checked with Chloe Okuno Observer.
Observer follows Julia and her husband Francis, as they move into a new apartment in downtown Bucharest, Romania. As the couple navigate a new country where Julia does not speak the predominant local language, she relies on Francis to do most of the communication. While Francis works every day, and often late at night, Julia notices a stranger watching her through the windows of the apartment at all hours of the evening. Julia’s tensions begin to rise, as reports of a local serial killer begin to flood the media, and she begins to believe she might be the next victim.
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Giallo-style films are extremely character-dependent, as most of them follow the same general type of story. Maika Monroe, who was fantastic in both It follows and that of Adam Wingard The guestwas born for her role as Julia in Observer. There are so many layers of anxiety in Julia’s character that audiences hardly need a serial killer to worry about her. Monroe does a perfect job of slowly losing her mind to the physical and mental isolation and constant gaslighting she endures. It was very reminiscent (in a good way) of Elizabeth Moss’ performance in Leigh Whannell’s version of The invisible Man. Karl Glusman and Burn Gorman were both excellent in their supporting roles, but this was Monroe’s film, through and through.
In many ways, Observer reminded me It follows and The invisible Man, mostly because it focused more on the habits and terror of the victim than the actions of a serial killer or predator. We know there is one, but we don’t really knowing or seeing them, then we are just as anxious as Julia, staring into the face of every passing man and listening intently to the quickening footsteps behind us. Monroe uses her emotions to sell audiences that the terror is reaching fever pitch, and the story, combined with brilliant camera work and specific shots, hits us with some incredibly intense moments, especially in the final act. Zack Ford and Chole Okuno’s writing is spot-on here, and to throw us all a much-needed Giallo Bone, they’ve hit us with some red herrings. Nathan Helpburn, who composed the score for another extremely boring film, Swallowcreated a spellbinding atmosphere to bring the audience closer together.
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One of the best things about Observer it’s the simplicity of the story. Often, Giallos gets a little off balance and begins to veer into the world of the supernatural. This film keeps things close, both playing on the fears that come with watching the horror of isolation, but also some of the anxieties of home invasion movies. Doing less sometimes creates more, especially in a Hitchcock thriller. I’m not surprised that Guillermo del Toro, one of today’s best modern horror directors, publicly praised Okuno’s feature debut.
If I had to ping the movie for anything, I think it would be for how the movie ended. We have an idea of how the story unfolds, but due to the level of intensity and fear I had for Julia’s life, I wanted more direct answers on how her path turned out. unrolled. I didn’t want to be left guessing, but in horror movies I barely have that luxury. I also found the levels of gaslighting Julia received so absurd with how obviously tortured and scared she was. Somehow I felt like the absurdity of the gaslighting took the focus away from Julia and her story and put it more on my anger at those who didn’t believe her, but I think also that was part of the problem. We were supposed to be right there, scared and frustrated at every turn, just like she was.
I think Observer is extremely worthy of the accolades it receives, and one of the best thrillers of this style to come out in decades. I highly recommend the watch. Observer is now streaming on Shudder and available to rent on Amazon.