Anyone who has read the amazing true account in “The Watcher” remembers it. The story was published by New York Magazine in November 2018 it tells the story of 657 Boulevard which is a Westfield, New Jersey address which was spied on by a mysterious person. Derek Broaddus and his wife Maria had purchased their dream home in 2014 but soon began receiving bizarre, intimidating letters following their move. The person who wrote the letters was evidently familiar with the house as well as the life of the Broadduses and even personal information which indicated that the person was monitoring the home. The phrases “Do you know what lives in the walls of 657 Boulevard” and “Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested” naturally led the Broadduses into full-on panic. You can spend hours going down online rabbit holes of theories as to who sent the notes, or just spend seven with Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan and their highly fictionalized version of this crazy story, which is tonally adrift and clouds the impossible-to-believe events instead of illuminating them. There are a myriad of themes that can be explored by examining the details of the real background in “The Watcher,” but Murphy and his crew don’t take their facts seriously, and they add every episode with more bizarre twists and turns with each episode until the entire story collapses in the face of any doubt. They don’t care about characters, moods or anything other than the revealing of twists in a rhythmic fashion because they believe that the it’s what can keep viewers … paying attention.
“The Watcher” is the kind of thing that could be an original network TV Movie of the Week in the 1970s or 1980s and is an Netflix original show now. The show is by an incredibly prolific actors on the planet in TV the past, Ryan Murphy, following the popularity in “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” and offering his viewers another thrilling Halloween treat prior to “American Horror Story: NYC” next week. However, Murphy and his crew lack the wit and fun they had previously. Look at Murphy’s enormous franchise debut, “American Horror Story: Murder House”–this is supposed to be an echo of the first season since it’s again about a typical family that moves to a home that’s cursed (although there are no rubber characters in this version). Yet, this film does not quite measure up to the previous one in its failure to spot the dangers in the theme. While there are hints of escapist saga this is a ploy in overwriting rather than anything that ever seems to aim to the spooky, unsettling unstable nature that was the hallmark of his best projects.
The Broadduses are reimagined in the form of Nora (Naomi Watts) and Dean Brannock (Bobby Cannavale) who move into the 657 Boulevard with two children instead of the original Broaddus three. However, that’s just the beginning of many variations to the original story. (Just an alert that almost all of this never actually happened.) I have no issue when creators take a real story and using it to create an artistically intriguing piece however “The Watcher” just keeps expanding and growing by adding rooms to the story in a manner that’s haphazard and sometimes unneeded.
The majority of those changes are the result of a boring expository from a private investigator called Theodora Birch. The character is played in a weak and uninteresting manner by Noma Dumezweni. She’s caught between serious investigation and fun. She assists the Brannocks through the potential “Watcher Suspects.” Are these notes sent by the suspicious neighbors (Margo Martindale and Richard Kind)? What about the neighbor who is unsettling (Terry Kinney) and his strict mother (Mia Farrow)? Is their agent Karen (Jennifer Coolidge) be involved? What about the new security guard Dakota (Henry Hunter Hall)? And what happens if Dean himself sends notes to negotiate an unaffordable sale?
The first two shows in “The Watcher” set it up as a sort of variation on “The Shining” or “The Amityville Horror” (as it could be) in that it’s more about the fall of a patriarch, more than a real, physical threat. “Dad, can you keep us safe?,” asks Brannock, the youngest. Brannock and the actor plays Dean’s deflated confidence with his unconvincing response to the question. It’s an interesting take on the true story because it focuses on vulnerability, specifically the kind that threatens the norms of masculinity. Dean struggles to work and is unable to satisfy or secure his wife. Dean learns that men who lived in 657 Boulevard were also affected by the same stress, and one of them even led to the destruction of a family. The idea is that suburban home owners’ stability is a risky thing it’s the kind of thing that could destroy the family unit if considered in a way that is too close.
As with so many other things that are in “The Watcher,” and many of Murphy’s works lately These themes are put out there without any understanding behind them, and later removed to be replaced by a plethora of other themes such as Satanism and infidelity, as well as hidden tunnels, and the home-fetishization, expressed through poetry (yes really). Murphy is always an instigator, but the artistic inclination that fueled his provocations has been dispersed by his busy schedule which has resulted in a mass over a high-quality aesthetic.
The real story of “The Watcher” is a terrifying one due to the deep fears it draws from. Everyone wants to feel secure at home. We are all hoping to assure our children that we’re able to keep them safe. Particularly in the current era of genuine security concerns, we’re likely to be more frightened of what’s happening in the homes of our neighbors. What are they doing in there? Why are they staring out the window at all times? Each of these ideas or common fears could have been used in the tale of 657 Boulevard However “The Watcher” is made by people who don’t believe in their audiences. They may convince you to go to the theater but they didn’t spend the time to create something memorable.
The entire series was screened for review. Available on Netflix today.