Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king.
The king was in his counting house,
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlor,
Eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.
When Sharon, Lois, and Bram’s Elephant Show featured the above nursery rhyme, it stuck out in my mind. Of course, while other girls wanted to be Ariel, I wanted to be Wednesday. When the root menu for The Watcher popped up, I already awarded the movie 10 points when I heard the eerie sing song voices of British children reciting that nursery rhyme which had been collecting dust somewhere in my mind somewhere between the musical “By Mennon” tag and the names of the Chipettes.
A young couple, Noah (Edi Gathegi) and Emma (Erin Cahill), invests all of their money into a beautiful fixer upper home. At first, the two are on Cloud 9 as they start home repairs and moving in. Shortly after, though, it seems that someone or something wants the couple to leave. Creepy and threatening notes signed by “The Raven,” along with dead ravens keep appearing in their home. The couple is not sure whether the former owner is just trying to scare them into moving or if the home is haunted. The realtor did disclose that a death occurred in the home although she painted it as a peaceful death of an elderly woman after a long illness.
Overall, I was very pleased with this film. As with most films, the cast really sold the story for me. Although most of the actors and actresses were new to me, the entire ensemble was talented and pulled me in from the start. I wanted to figure out what was happening in Emma and Noah’s home. I wanted them to beat whatever person or force was terrorizing them. The actors have the hardest job at winning me over in a movie. I love watching horrors and thrillers, but, one of my guilty pleasures is watching the characters bite it in creative ways or secretly hoping that the hero or heroine will be slaughtered. Emma and Noah were not too good to be true and seemed like a married couple. They seemed like regular people. Star Trek the Next Generation and Pet Sematary alumna Denise Crosby really added a depth and variety to the characters that many recent thrillers are missing.
Ryan Rothmaier worked double duty as director and writer of The Watcher. Not only did he effectively create characters that I found myself rooting for, he also created a story that contains as many layers as an onion that could be peeled slowly, exposing more and more nuances that added to the story.
Early on in the movie, we know that a raven is going to play a key role in the movie and will give us clues to figure out what or who is using Emma and Noah, and, by extension, the audience as its plaything. Each new terror pulls us and the characters in a different direction as we try to figure out exactly what is going on. As a literature geek, I expected that the raven would obviously point to allusions to Edgar Allen Poe’s piece of the same name, but was delighted when no references were made.
Instead, I discovered that Rothmaier cleverly laced the movie with Biblical allusions. In the Bible, Noah built the Ark in preparation for a great flood that would wipe the slate clean and destroy an Earth that had become sinful. He would use the Ark to house himself, his family, as well as animals to repopulate the Earth. The Books of Enoch refers to several works that attribute themselves to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah. First Enoch relates the Jewish story of angels coming down to Earth instead of being cast out of Heaven. These angels or “Watchers” (as they are called in Daniel), lusted after human women, had intercourse with them, and, eventually, impregnated them. During the movie, we learn that Emma and Noah had a son that died. At the end of the movie, we see a visibly pregnant Emma. Was she impregnated by some sort of demonic, fallen angel or watcher?
In Genesis, Noah releases a raven from the Ark to check if the floodwaters had receded. It is believed that the raven was originally white in this Biblical story. When the raven did not return, God turned it black as punishment for its failure. Noah then sent a dove to do the raven’s job. Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and founder of the school of analytical psychology, saw the raven as a symbol for the inner self, also known as the shadow self, something we all must eventually acknowledge and communicate with in order to be fully whole. Perhaps the Raven is an evil shadow or ghost that is haunting the home and the couple?
We also need to look for meaning in the nursery rhyme that is chanted over the root menu and the closing credits. During the Middle Ages and shortly after, desserts and dishes were served between courses. These were referred to as entremets. They started out simply and slowly became more lavish, colorful, and eventually, grew to becoming show pieces and artwork that was meant to entertain as much, if not more, than to serve as food. The wedding of Marie de’ Medici and Henry IV of France is recorded as containing such an entremet in which songbirds flew out from the crust of a pie.
In other interpretations of the rhyme, the number four and twenty or, as we would put it today, twenty-four, can be tied to the Reformation and the printing of the English Bible with 24 letters. The blackbird, or raven, taking the maid’s nose could be interpreted as a demon stealing her soul. Perhaps the Raven leaving foreboding notes is planning on stealing Emma’s soul?
The crowning moment was at the end of the film, when I thought I had figured everything out and all the loose ends were going to be tied up neatly and a final twist was revealed! This just made the movie even better for me, even though I felt that I had been duped!
Of course, the movie was not perfect. There were some plot holes left open like the pockmarked asphalt of a road after winter. There was one significant issue in which Mikey, who is barely verbal and is usually just screaming during the few occasions he does speak, has actually driven a car down the road and parked it straighter than I could in a driveway. I am not jumping on some political or ethical discussion of disabilities, but driving is beyond Mikey’s abilities as he is depicted in the movie.
I also take issue with the full-bodied, human sized raven that we catch a few glimpses of throughout the movie. It just did not work for me. The costume was laughable and wrenched me right out of the movie. It would have made nice fodder for Tom Servo, but it did not match the realistic look of the rest of the movie. I think Rothmaier should have learned a lesson from Spielberg’s Jaws. The shark did not work and was incredibly fake looking. It was more terrifying to imply the monster than to show it. I would have rather not seen the raven. I was happy with the occasional large black feather that was found around the home.
The film, overall, would make a great addition to any horror fan’s collection and would be a solid rental choice for a Friday night at home. I would definitely suggest watching it with an open mind and close eye to catch all of the subtle hints and nuances.