A look at the powerful theme of culture shock in horror, which is often overlooked but highly effective.
The Horror of Culture Shock in “Watcher”: Most horror movies focus on ghosts, ghouls or masked killers. Watcher stars Maika Monroe and is an actual horror film. The film is directed by Chloe Okuno and follows a young couple who move to Bucharest to take up her husband’s new job (Karl Glusman). Julia Monroe, the lead female character, cannot speak Romanian and does not know much about Romanian culture. Julia and the audience are both culture shock victims.
Culture shock is a real anxiety-provoking experience for travellers to foreign countries. Any individual can feel disoriented due to the inability to communicate, ignorance of cultural norms, or lack of geographic knowledge.
Watcher deftly examines this in almost every scene, constantly placing Julia in situations that make it difficult for her to understand the world around them. Julia’s culture shock adds to the suspense about the murderer. Although the killer is the ultimate antagonist, the film’s techniques to create a stressful and suffocating environment allow it to achieve terror levels unmatched by other films.
The Terror of Isolation
The lack of subtitles in Romanian dialogue is one of the best choices to create a culture shock. Without subtitles, viewers are forced into experiencing Bucharest like Julia, with a continuous stream of unintelligible languages. Julia tries to learn the language, but it isn’t easy, and she can’t even order coffee in a cafe.
Julia relies on her husband to translate the film. Watcher, it’s to help understand her landlord or to keep up to date on the serial killer. Sometimes her husband refuses to allow her to understand what is being said. He also makes fun of Julia with his colleagues who speak Romanian at dinner parties. Along with unreliable native speakers’ characters, it creates extreme unease for Julia and the audience.
Julia’s isolation is another excellent way to demonstrate the effects of culture shock. Julia is alone in her apartment, and her husband works late at night. This leaves her with little to help her adjust to a foreign country. She often makes errors that cause her to anger native Romanians when venturing out.
This is whether she takes photos in forbidden locations or enters areas in a grocery shop that she doesn’t know are off-limits. It discourages her from getting out in public to learn more about Bucharest. Julia’s isolation from the rest of society causes her paranoia and fear to escalate. This makes her erratic and her relationship with her husband difficult. Julia loses touch with her husband as she begins to discredit her and thinks she is losing it. It is a shame to place a character in such an isolated situation.
Culture shock can make anyone doubt their ability to make mistakes. Julia is forced to make mistakes in a foreign country and question her beliefs about the stalker. Julia confides in her native friends about the stalker, but they don’t believe her, and instead of comforting her, they become condescending. Julia spirals into madness as she is unable to decide whether to trust her instincts or not. Julia’s culture shock ultimately leads to her falling for the murderer.
But was Her Paranoia justified?
She is confident that she has created this threat in her head by the movie’s end. She admits she is wrong about the man who stalked her. She was only paranoid, living in a foreign country. The culture shock made Julia an easy target for the murderer. Julia was already questioning herself, on the verge of losing everything, and gaslit. This made her the perfect prey. It’s not until the end that Julia realizes that she is correct.
Thus, the final confrontation between her and the killer begins. This can be symbolic for Julia as she overcomes her fear of moving to a foreign country and gains the confidence to live independently despite cultural barriers. She defeats culture shock by killing the “watcher”.
Watcher shows how terrifying and dangerous culture shock can be. This is slowly demonstrated in the film using several techniques so that viewers feel disoriented and uncomfortable by the end. While some movie place characters in foreign countries, like The Green Inferno and Hostel, created by Eli Roth movies, these horror stories tend to be more violent and overtly brutal than slow-building dread.
Culture shock is more likely to affect a person than cannibalization in a foreign land. This can still be powerful in evoking visceral reactions, but culture shock will resonate deeper with viewers.
Culture shock is an effective mechanism for creating terror, but it is often overlooked. Watcher shows how efficient this can be while still being valuable and relevant. Exploring culture shock on film is a great way to add a layer of terror in an increasingly globalized world.