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HE’S WATCHING (2022)
Directed and written by Jacob Estes.
Starring Iris Serena Estes, Lucas Steel Estes, Gerald Davis, Jacob Estes, Shawn Michael Howard, Gretchen Lieberum, Mellissa Martinez, Kirk Nelson, Susannah Rogers, Lonny Ross
A pair of kids, Iris (Iris Serena Estes) and Lucas (Lucas Steel Estes) are stuck at home alone during a world-wide pandemic with the parents out of the country. As the death toll rises, the kids begin to get cabin fever and start pulling pranks on each other. But soon they realize that there might be something dark and evil tormenting them while they sleep.
HE’S WATCHING is a low budget found footage-esque film made by the Estes family during the pandemic. While much of the film is made with hand held phone cameras, it isn’t really a true found footager as the film switches back and forth between first person POV to a more omniscient traditional mode of camerawork. There are also many dream and hallucination scenes which can’t really be done via the found footage motif either. So, while there might be a lot of hand held cam going on, this really can’t be considered found footage. At best it is a multi-media experimental film utilizing many different cameras to tell a story.
The handheld stuff does do its job as there is a sense of jittery tension that occurs throughout HE’S WATCHING. There are definitely some scenes that will unnerve you as the kids attempt to get to the bottom of who or what is stalking them in the night while they are sleeping. Through confessional style setups, we also get some great characterization by both kids, who at first enjoy their freedom without parents, but soon begin to miss them and resent them for leaving them alone. Eventually, they begin to believe there really is a monster and try their best to battle it…I think.
You see, things get really vague the longer this movie plays out. Between confessions and arguments between Iris and Lucas, they seem to enjoy making short movies (their absent father being a filmmaker and all), so much of HE’S WATCHING is what some might call arthouse. Some scenes don’t make sense. Some are just meant to be disturbing. Some are meant to be beautiful. These scenes are more like a montage of wild imagery that one might have seen back when MTV played videos. The longer the kids are alone with one another, the more surreal the imagery gets and while I think I followed what occurs in the final moments of HE’S WATCHING, there really is no way to be sure because even the conclusion isn’t arrived at with much of a sense of reality.
The imagery of the masked man who seems to be stalking the kids is quite horrifying, especially when he seems to appear out of nowhere. Is this a symbol of the kids’ frayed minds? Or is there really a benevolent beast after them? I’m not really sure on that. All I know is that despite the vague what this one wraps up, HE’S WATCHING is successful in unnerving me with strange images, surreal sequences, and a couple of kids who have a pretty strong screen presence despite their age. If you don’t mind descents into vivid madness with nothing really to grip on by the time the equally creative credits roll, HE’S WATCHING might just be your jam.