The first hour of writer-director Ishana Night Shyamalan’s debut film The Watchers is instantly forgettable and totally uninteresting in almost every way. Despite being a horror movie there’s nothing—not one single moment—that qualifies as scary. It’s poorly edited, poorly paced, and poorly scored. Its characters are so shallow I couldn’t even muster energy to hope they’d get killed off. The film simply thinks eschewing basic plot elements and putting people in a literal mystery box is compelling enough on its own to make it good. It is not. But after the last 41 minutes of this disastrous, laughable script, I was longing for a return to the first hour. Its mind-numbing nothingness was far better than the absurdity that followed.

The Watchers is a perfect case study in why things like exposition, plot, characterization, theme, and narrative structure are important in storytelling. It lacks all of those things. It actually seems to actively hate them, but not in a fun way. The film isn’t playing against expectations or convention. Instead it just doesn’t care about them. Vital information, which would have been wildly interesting to know at the start, is held back until the last 20 minutes of the movie.

As a result you don’t care what’s going on or why because the film never even hints at its actual story. It’s genuinely shocking when you find out what it’s really about. There’s a hidden premise here that is actually a good idea for a movie. But by the time you you’re told it, it’s not only far too late, it will make you actively hate it for trying to be so coy. This film is like getting served cake after getting force fed literal slop for 80 straight minutes. No cares about cake at that point! You’re sick from the slop!

dakota fanning stands in a mirror with her face against in it the watchers horror movie trailer
Warner Bros.

Even when the movie does finally bother to provide us necessary exposition, it does so in the most ham-fisted way imaginable. My mostly full screening groaned during some info dumps. Characters deliver many of them during scenes while claiming they must keep moving at all costs. The rest of the dialogue isn’t much better, either. Characters speak in an uncanny valley manner that makes you think their off-ness might be intentional. Nope, it’s just really bad writing.

Who are these people, though? It doesn’t matter. What brought them here? It really doesn’t matter. Who are the titular “watchers” observing them at night? I was more worried about everyone having to watch this awful movie to care.

Warner Bros.

I know this all sounds harsh, but the truth is, it’s actually much worse. This is film is so inane that its big ending made me laugh out loud. That was definitely not the reaction the film was trying to get. I wasn’t alone, either. Many in the audience started laughing, too. It was the most/only cathartic moment of the entire evening. Laughing at this silliness was a physical release of the frustration-turned-disbelief we’d all obviously been feeling.

Thematically, The Watchers is just as bad as its plot and characters. It presents potentially engaging ideas in the first 10 minutes only to completely forget about them until the last ten. Meanwhile it abandons other themes are completely. It’s almost incomprehensible how bad this screenplay is. (There’s part of me that wants people to see it for that very reason.) It really lacks the most basic elements of a coherent story, let along a decent one.

Sometimes the cast can save a bad movie from itself, but that didn’t happen here. (In fairness, Daniel-Day Lewis and Meryl Streep couldn’t have saved this movie with a script this bad.) Star Dakota Fanning technically gives the best performance, but only technically. Her Mina is intentionally flat and emotionally broken, but it doesn’t work when everyone in this movie is flat. Mina is like Melatonin the character. All the other characters are Valium.

Warner Bros.

The only thing keeping this film from being an historic disaster is, strangely enough, the person most responsible for it. Shyamalan is unable to generate any kind of dread, interest, or sense of place, but the film does feature some nice shots. She clearly knows how to both light and frame a scene. And she knows where to put her camera. As long as she’s shooting someone else’s script, she clearly has potential as a director.

It’s going to be hard for many people to see that potential initially. Not because they can’t appreciate the only redeemable part of an awful movie, though. They’ll be too angry they actually watched The Watchers.

The Watchers

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on  Twitter and  Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.