The Observer Effect
9 Aug 2021
Vanessa Emme, Patrick O'Brien, Brendan Sheehan
Intense and stylish cinematography shines in Garrett Walsh’s The Observer Effect, a short which flirts with dark themes both supernatural and disturbingly relatable. But the film’s plot and execution of its story fails to really live up to the level of the visuals.
On her walk home from work one night, Maeve (Vanessa Emme) senses that someone is watching her. She enlists her colleague Cian (Brendan Sheehan) to accompany her, concerned she may be being followed. Her instincts are correct – as a mysterious man (Patrick O’Brien) has been observing her from afar. But unbeknownst to the pair, this watcher has been having strange visions of a confrontation between the three of them that will change their lives forever.
The Observer Effect is the stylish debut of director Garrett Walsh – and this high on style, low on substance short is typical of a rookie director’s work. The film packs in plenty of artistic shots and thoughtful camerawork, which manages to make the piece a visual treat even with the amount of dark and shadowy sets we spend time on. A mysterious montage towards the film’s conclusion may confuse viewers, but the enigmatic horror elements the director injects does at least make it intriguing. As a purely visual spectacle, the film succeeds.
Unfortunately, the actual plot of the film falls into the trap of trying to do too many things at once. The story quickly accelerates from a crime-thriller set-up into a sci-fi/fantasy feature in the blink of an eye. The twist itself is not the problem – more that the breakneck speed at which the film’s shift occurs will leave audiences taken aback. Neither do the revelations sit comfortably in the story, with a serial-killer subplot an almost forgettable footnote to the tale. This is a pointless inclusion that adds little to the overall story other than to act as a red herring which receives a baffling and unconvincing explanation. It is clear the writer-director had a number of ideas for the film – some of which are promising on their own, but mixed all together they result in an overall messy final product.
The cast are largely fine, but performances struggle somewhat with the concerning question as to who the film’s lead really is. We spend a lot of time with Patrick O’Brien’s ‘Watcher’, who has no dialogue but displays a physical and threatening aura. Vanessa Emme’s Maeve eventually takes centre stage – however she spends much of the film as a passenger to events around her, only taking action herself at the film’s end. Brendan Sheehan does his best as the affable Cian, but is a victim to the film’s awkward tonal shift when a different side of his behaviour emerges. What is meant to be a warning against hidden natures comes across as far too random and forced to really convince audiences.
It is a shame that the film fumbles the basics, because the commitment to darkness and mystery unquestionably lead to audience engagement. The ambiguous nature of the film’s finale is also welcome and fits comfortably with the world that the director establishes. Some fine-tuning of the script, and better pacing, would have made The Observer Effect a much more impressive piece.
Alas, the film is much more sizzle than steak, and lives off of its visuals much more than its story. ‘Observers’ of this film will be treated, but only for visual observations rather than intellectual ones.