He’s Watching (2022) Review
Written and directed by Jacob Estes (Mean Creek, Don’t Let Go) and starring his kids Iris Serena Estes and Lucas Steel Estes, He’s Watching started out as a family project to keep occupied during lockdown. Iris and Lucas play siblings named Iris and Lucas who are on their own while their parents recover from an unspecified illness that, at first, I assumed to be COVID-19. Then we see news footage indicating it’s a new pandemic that only affects adults.
From the start, He’s Watching has an odd, creepy vibe to it. It mixes footage they’ve shot to send to their parents, who are apparently watching the videos but not replying, with other scenes that must have been captured by security cameras. There are also more sinister video messages that crop up on their phones, they accuse each other of sending it and they both deny sending it as well.
Unfortunately, that also works against the film on another level. He’s Watching looks like the kind of footage a couple of kids would film, a random mix of them biking through a deserted Chinatown, squabbling over what to watch, etc. When you add in the other footage it becomes more like a collage of images than a narrative film. And while that might appeal to David Lynch fans, it grew old fast for me.
Around the half-hour mark, it becomes clear that yes there is an evil presence in the house and He’s Watching starts to pull itself together and become a bit more plot-driven. It still doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense but it does manage to translate the first act’s creepy vibes into some scary scenes. They rely on the images and score as much as the plot to be effective, but it does work. But for every scene that does work, there are more that are simply found footage and/or haunted house cliches. Doors that open on their own, TVs that show things they shouldn’t be, something half seen in the darkness.
Speaking of half seen in the darkness, He’s Watching was shot on a phone and meant to look like it. That does give the film a more authentic feel. Unfortunately, it means the night shots, of which there are plenty, range from distinctly creepy to so dark it’s hard to make out what’s happening.
Not that much actually does happen. Mostly we get some creepy-looking figures, played by the director or his wife Gretchen Lieberum standing around looking creepy. There’s almost no action at all, which means there’s little to distract the viewer from He’s Watching’s lack of plot. With a tighter plot, it might have been an effective mood piece. But as it stands it’s more interested in being weird for the sake of being weird and lacks the grounding of something like We’re All Going to the World’s Fair which made a similarly thin plot deliver much better results.
For a glorified home movie, He’s Watching is impressive and has its moments. Whether that’s enough to justify releasing it is another matter. I found it sporadically interesting with some effective moments but not enough to keep me engaged. Fans of high weirdness and style over substance should be more appreciative of it.
XYZ Films will release He’s Watching to VOD and Digital platforms on July 21st. And if that’s not quite what you want to be watching, FilmTagger has some suggestions.