The Watcher in the Woods is a 2017 American made-for-TV paranormal horror film directed by Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch; actress in Nine Dead; Are You Afraid of the Dark? TV series) from a screenplay by Scott Abbott (Rosemary’s Baby TV mini-series; Queen of the Damned). It is based on the 1976 novel A Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall, previously adapted into the 1980 film of the same name. The Hartbreak Films production stars Anjelica Huston, Tallulah Evans and Nicholas Galitzine.
There’s something watching in the woods.
At the very least, that’s what Jan (Tallulah Evans) believes. Jan and her family are spending the summer in Wales, at the Aylwood Manor. From the minute that they move in, Jan starts to suspect that something is strange about the place. Sometimes, she thinks that she can hear whispers coming from the nearby woods. Her younger sister starts to act strangely. Their parents are convinced that Jan is just playing tricks and trying to frighten them. When Jan tries to find out more information about both the woods and her new home, she discovers that most of the people in the village don’t want to talk about it. Those that do speak to her tend to say things like, “Soon, you’ll be gone too.”
(Other than some shots of the beautiful countryside, I doubt this film will do much for Welsh tourism.)
And then there’s Mrs. Aylwood (Anjelica Huston), the mysterious and stand-offish owner of Aylwood Manor. Thirty years ago, her daughter disappeared in the woods. Most people in the village believe that Mrs. Aylwood murdered her own daughter. At first, Jan suspects that she’s a witch and that she not only sacrificed her daughter but now wants to sacrifice Jan’s sister as well!
Of course, the truth might be something altogether different. It’s not always so easy to tell who is a witch and who is just a grieving mother. The only thing that Jan knows for sure is that there’s something in the woods and it’s watching…
The main reason to see The Watcher in the Woods was because it was directed by Melissa Joan Hart and she’ll always be Sabrina, the Teenage Witch to me. [Don’t start yelling at me about God’s Not Dead 2. Actors have bills to pay and Melissa gave about as good a performance as anyone could with that script.] Hart does a pretty good job directing The Watcher in the Woods.
It’s not particularly scary but, for all the talk of witches and demons, it’s not really meant to be a horror film. Instead, it’s a coming-of-age story with paranormal elements. Jan not only learns about what’s watching in the woods but she also learns an important lesson about assuming that people are witches. And, even if it’s not really a frightening movie, it does have some appropriately creepy scenes.
The woods are a great location and there’s a scene where Jan nearly drowns that’s especially well-handled. The film is also well-acted, with a natural and believable performance from Tallulah Evans and an enjoyably stylised one from Anjelica Huston.
Lisa Marie Bowman, MOV!ES and MAN!A – A version of this review also appears on Through the Shattered Lens
The Watcher in the Woods premiered on the Lifetime channel on October 21, 2017.