Would you ever make a deal with the Devil? Watch Over Us is the new horror movie from American film-maker F.C. Rabbath, which explores this very question. A down on his luck father, struggling to provide for his children, with no money, no job, and no house, reluctantly moves his family to live with their elderly grandfather. When the film begins we find that it is a situation nobody is happy about. To top it all off, each day they’re plagued by the groans and taunts of some demonic presence that appears to be targeting them.
What this unfortunate family is not aware of is that their grandfather has made a deal with the Devil to secure riches for himself in exchange for harboring the ‘Prince of Darkness’ in his barn. As the grandfather’s health is failing, it falls to a direct blood descendant to renew the satanic pact. However, is usually the case with deals like this, things are never as simple as you might hope – somebody must die.
The film starts promisingly enough with some nice visuals and an ominous soundtrack, a decent cast and some interesting camera work, which intimate that this might be a good film. However, long after Watch Over Us had ended, I’m still trying to decide whether obvious fluctuations in the film’s production quality were intentional or not. The plot was interesting, although not original and I’m sure fans of The CW’s Supernatural will find it extremely familiar. However, it is executed well and in general is an easy and fairly enjoyable watch. Considering this is pretty much one man’s vision (F.C. Rabbath taking credit for the writing, directing, producing, cinematography and editing) I would have imagined that it accurately represents his vision, therefore I’m left somewhat bemused by the end result. Firstly, the sound in this movie isn’t great. Don’t get me wrong, you can hear what everyone says, and some of the demonic groans and growls will reverberate in your skull to good effect, but occasionally the background hiss that the microphones pick up is quite noticeable, especially when you transition between camera angles.
Subsequently, sometimes the creaking of floorboards or the stomp of feet and the echo of an empty room are quite unnecessary and distracting. The most obvious fluctuation though is in the quality of the actual video. Whilst watching a scene play out, the quality of the film can change quite drastically between different camera angles, almost as if the production team had one good camera and a few not-so-good ones. The subsequent footage appears to have been mixed together in the hope that the changes would be seamless enough not to be noticed, however, it is. Some scenes are super crisp and clear, yet others will be quite grainy and poor, quite like if you’ve ever switched between an HD and SD version of the same TV channel at home. Another gripe is that the focusing on the cameras at times so slow that you are left wondering if the cameras just aren’t very good at all, or if the director is trying to make a specific statement in his editing. If it is the latter then rather than being left in a state of awe at Rabbath’s masterful techniques, you are left slightly distracted and annoyed. One of my least favorite camera effects is the overuse of slow motion to emphasize tension, which is used numerous times, acting like a prompt for the viewer that something scary is happening.
Anyone familiar with F.C. Rabbath’s previous movies may recognize some familiar faces amongst the cast, and overall this cast is good, with a few nice performances. However, like the sound and camera work, they too sometimes fluctuate with occasional pauses in dialogue that are noticeably just a fraction too long to make them believably natural. Daniel Link as the father and Ella Schaefer as the eldest daughter, noteworthy in trying desperately to bring this film to life.
Watch Over Us always feels like a film that tries to take itself seriously, despite the supernatural elements, and does manage to build some respectable moments of tension. However, what little we see of the Devil in his natural state is reduced to a few brief glimpses of what could have been so much more. Rabbath’s interpretation of the beast falls very flat. A horror film can be made or broken by how they represent their ‘big bad’, and maybe this is where the restricted budget really showed, which is a shame. Sometimes the demonic groans sounded more like someone sat in a cupboard playing drums and belching down a didgeridoo. The final nail in the coffin was the disappointing and bizarre ‘scooby-doo’ ending that seemed out of place and almost to the detriment of all the tension the film had built to that point.
My biggest issue with Watch Over Us is one I encounter time and time again and that is that we are shown a world where horror films don’t seem to exist. We all know that if you start hearing demonic noises in the cupboards and behind the walls, you pack up and leave town. If the local priest runs screaming from the house, you can be pretty sure that you need to follow suit, and if some monstrous being is living in the barn, you don’t hang around to investigate. What is wrong with these people?