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‘The Watcher’ Review: An Outstandingly Terrifying Depiction of a True Story

3.5 Stars

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“The Watcher,” Netflix’s newest terrifying miniseries, is not just a scary show — the horrifying tale is a real cold case. The miniseries follows Dean and Nora Brannock, a couple based on the real story of Derek and Maria Broaddus, who bought a home in Westfield, New Jersey in June 2014. In “The Watcher,” the family’s beautiful new suburban home soon turns into a nightmare when they begin receiving eerie letters from a person who calls themself “The Watcher.” With their livelihood, safety, and image at stake, Nora (Naomi Watts) and Dean Brannock (Bobby Cannavale) are willing to do anything they can to find out who is terrorizing their lives.

Watts and Cannavale effectively bring to life compelling dialogue and powerful imagery that transforms the series. The miniseries demands more than suspense alone, and both lead actors are outstanding in their increasingly desperate portrayal of parents motivated to do anything to keep their family and home safe. Ultimately, their performances build tension on screen even more than the figure of “the watcher,” as in each horror sequence, the camera focuses mainly on the Brannocks’ faces and their convincing desperation for answers.

Indeed, the miniseries is not just eerie, but suspensefully terrifying. “The Watcher” sets itself apart from other stalker films by focusing on unexpected sources of fear apart from the main antagonist. Throughout the series, the Brannock’s neighbors are a searingly real source of terror. Each of the Brannock’s neighbors plays a distinct role in the feeling of suspense that builds with each episode — the weird, incomprehensible quirks of the characters are simply unnerving. In turn, viewers find themselves not only frightened by a threatening stalker, but uneasy in the scenes of the mysterious neighbors.

Additionally, characters such as Karen Coulhoun (Jennifer Coolidge) give the series a dimension beyond pure horror — an enticing balance of humorous and scary moments allows the miniseries to shine. Coolidge, best known for similar comedic roles, also displays her ability in the horror genre. Through scenes of witty remarks and unapologetic banter, Coolidge initially provides a much-needed comic relief to the otherwise dark series, making her screams of horror at the end of the series that much more effective.

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Moreover, the series’s soundtrack successfully creates a lasting sense of unease and uncertainty. Eerie, repetitive tones turn seemingly normal shots into frightening ones, and the show’s simple yet creepy main theme is sure to stay in viewers’ heads longer than they may wish. Thus, the series effectively establishes a murder mystery feel that keep viewers invested in solving the case.

Accordingly, audiences may be disappointed to discover that the mystery of “The Watcher” remains unsolved at the very end of the series, making for an unsatisfying — but lingering — conclusion. Whether it be the author of the letters, the possible neighbor involvement, or questions about the suspicious private investigator, the series offers many possible suspects that viewers can speculate about while watching and after finishing the series. Viewers, undoubtedly fascinated by the cold case, are likely to spend hours thinking and learning more about the Broadduses long after the credits roll.

—Staff writer Monique I. Vobecky can be reached at monique.vobecky@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @moniquevobecky.

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