From what I can tell, “micro-budget” writer/director/producer Ryan Callaway is a pretty cool cat. Sure, you could argue that I’m biased toward any and all “Ryan C.”s in the world, but seriously — when I wrote a middling review of his film The Girl In The Cornfield a couple weeks back, he was not only gracious about it, he actually went so far as to engage in that rarest of internet rarities with me afterwards : a respectful and productive conversation that acknowledged his flick’s strengths and weaknesses in a manner that showed he harbored no ill will towards me for not showering his efforts with unmitigated praise. Granted, my appraisal was hardly negative on the whole, but ya know what? I get the distinct impression that even if it had been, he would’ve been okay with that, too — and in a world where far too many backyard Burtons and dime-store DePalmas take it as a personal attack when you don’t immediately acknowledge them as the next Hollywood superstar in the making, that counts for a lot with me. For that reason alone, then, I decided to give his latest, 2016’s The Watchers : The Beginning Of Sorrows, a shot when I noticed it available for streaming on Amazon Prime the other day.
In fairness, this 50-minute production is hardly what you’d call a “feature-length” film, and it’s also, apparently, the third entry in a series (titled The Watchers, as if you didn’t already know) produced by Callaway and his wife, Amy — but even for all that, I didn’t feel terribly confused or anything going in, as the story stands fairly well on its own. The title’s a bit on the long side, sure, but when you consider that it’s basically an “episode” in a longer narrative, even that makes sense in context. So, now that we’ve got all that out of the way, we just have to answer one question — is it any good?
As with almost all movies of this nature, the answer is “yes and no.” The story’s certainly interesting enough on its merits : Madeline Tanner (played by Haley Chapel) had been searching for her missing kid sister, Briana (Rachelle Bieber) for about six months, and appeared to be making something vaguely resembling progress, when the truly inexplicable happened and she ended up disappearing herself! Madeline was convinced that the answer to her sibling’s whereabouts was to be found in the realm of the supernatural, and her own spiriting away (lame pun pretty much intended) has certainly confirmed that suspicion in the mind of her best friend, Laura Leeds (Elizabeth Wellman), who is now taking up the reins of the investigation herself despite the “double danger” it represents. Will she find one or both of the subjects of her search — or just end up yet another “missing persons” statistic?
The acting is up-and-down in this one, it’s true, but “up” gets the slight edge in the final tally as Wellman in particular cuts a pretty fine performance despite obviously lacking anything like formal training. As for everyone else, what the heck — most of the rest of the performers acquit themselves reasonably well, at least the majority of the time, and again the Callaways are to be commended for assembling an almost- entirely-female cast and giving them reasonably-fleshed-out roles that don’t simply call for them to either scream, strip naked, or both. Not that I necessarily mind either of those things, of course, but it’s well past time that horror, in particular, gets its head out of its ass and acknowledges that women are people, not props or plot devices. It seems downright bizarre to me that a maker of “homemade” films in New Jersey is doing a better job of that than purportedly “progressive” Hollywood, but such is the way of the world, I guess.
On the directorial front, Callaway shows a bit less style here than was on display in The Girl In The Cornfield, which featured some genuinely breathtaking shots on occasion, while this flick, by contrast, is more of a “point-and-shoot” affair — and while that certainly doesn’t mean that it looks actively bad in any way (especially by “micro-budget” standards), it’s definitely not what you’d call visually ambitious, either. There could be a million and one perfectly reasonable explanations for this — most (if not all) having to do with time and money, of course — but I guess I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit disappointed by the overall “look” of The Watchers : The Beginning Of Sorrows.
On the whole, though, fans of “this sort of thing” should find a fair amount to like here, provided they make the usual allowances one must for production values and the like. For my own part, whatever that’s worth, I found myself reasonably intrigued by, and involved with, the proceedings throughout, and chances are that if there’s a fourth Watchers film, I’ll give it a go — and hey, I expect that I’ll probably end up enjoying that one (assuming it happens), as well.