A woman alone in a house in the middle of nowhere is a staple recipe for modern-day Hollywood horror, and I have to admit that this sub-genre never really works out. Of course, not everything turns out to be as brilliant as Miles Flanagan’s 2016 anxiety-inducing Hush. But no matter what the quality of a movie of this kind is, there is always a hook that holds you till the end. While I’ll be Watching primarily belongs to that particular category of movies, it also brings in a science-fiction angle along with a “there must be something going on right under your nose” theme, and frankly, I am an admirer of the latter.
With all that said, I can’t possibly call I’ll Be Watching a good movie, but that is mainly due to its copped-out climax. Otherwise, it is actually very watchable and works for the most part, especially if you, by any chance, are a fan of the CW series The 100 and its lead stars, Eliza Taylor and Bob Morley. Real-life couple Taylor and Morley play the married couple at the center of I’ll be Watching, although for their sake, I hope their real life is nothing like the reel life. In fact, I thought it was pretty bold of Morley to play an extremely despicable husband opposite his wife in real life.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘I’ll Be Watching’?
I had a legitimate thought about filing a petition against recent horror movies for horrifically killing cats as an effective narrative tool—yes, looking at you as well, Smile (2022). Anyway, here’s the deal: Julie is left alone in a hi-tech house in the middle of nowhere when her husband Marcus goes to Hong Kong for an absolutely “unavoidable” work thing. You can smell the lie from a hundred feet away and reach the conclusion that the guy is most likely cheating, and this movie wouldn’t prove you wrong, either. He threatens their marriage counselor or therapist to convince Julie to be alone so that he can go on his trip, almost forcefully makes them relocate to the (eventually) fateful house, builds an Alexa-esque AI system with questionable faults that he refuses to see, and so on. All that happens in the first half-hour sets Julie up for her eventual misery at the house.
You must be here after watching the movie, on the lookout for an explanation; but just to put things into proper context, here’s a quick gist of it. Autophobic painter Julie’s sister Rebecca dies at Julie and Marcus’s empty house by falling victim to an unfortunate run-in with an intruder, mainly due to the malfunctioning of an AI-backed security system designed by Marcus. A grief-stricken Julie doesn’t blame her husband but falls into a downward spiral with a dangerous pill and alcohol addiction after suffering from an unfortunate leg injury, for which Marcus is also responsible. Doctor Tate, who should get one tight slap for both incompetence and insensitivity, does not seem to be of much help to Julie either. To make things worse, he blatantly takes Marcus’s side and coerces Julie to relocate to a new house far away from the city, which would fix everything. Julie gives in to it and moves to the new house, with Marcus’s new, improved AI system, Hera 2.0, installed in it. Even though Marcus gives Julie the assurance that he will work from home to be with her all the time, he soon leaves, proving his unworthiness even further.
‘I’ll Be Watching’ Ending Explained: Who Kills Julie?
Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if Marcus turned out to be the person behind everything. His activities were dubious enough to support the logic that a man like that would make a plot to drive his wife insane and eventually murder her to be with Michelle, his paramour. But director Erik Bernard clearly had other ideas in his mind, which sadly didn’t land properly—at least in my book. Before going into that, let us look at both the good and the bad.
Despite all the predictability, which was actually there to fool the audience, I suppose the suspense was built pretty well. Right after Marcus leaves, weird things start to happen with Julie. Her plan of staying with her friend Sophie until Marcus comes back also doesn’t materialize, thanks to Marcus not being okay with her driving all alone with an injured leg and then the thermostat suddenly acting strange. The character of the technician was introduced as a potential perpetrator, and I am sure the actor was asked to play it in a certain way to throw the audience off. However, things really go dark for Julie when she starts to hear a certain male voice that is not her husband, and Hera confirms that she has nothing to do with it. Marcus keeps seemingly gaslighting her by telling that it’s probably all in her head, increasing the audience’s suspicion of him even more. Upon a possible break-in, Hera calls the police for Julie, but the local police chief fails to find anything substantial, as expected. Furthermore, Julie gets embarrassed and is advised to cut down on her drinking when she tries to show the text messages she has received on her phone, only to find they are conveniently gone.
All hell breaks loose when Julie’s cat dies inside the washing machine when the machine is automatically turned on. Her misery doesn’t end there, as she soon receives a box, only to get taunted regarding the cat’s death. Eventually, she figures out about Marcus’s cheating and calls him out on it, which prompts him to cut his fake trip short and return home. But Julie has had enough of it, so she packs her bags in order to leave, only to realize that the perpetrator has entered the house. There’s no delusion left anymore from the perspective of the audience, too, as we see the person in flesh and blood, wearing a black leather suit and a black mask. With the help of Hera, Julie tries her best to get away as much as possible. I was really hoping at this point that she would escape her doomed fate because, thanks to Taylor’s performance and some decent writing, I actually started to care for the character. But that doesn’t happen, and the perpetrator kills Julie right when her husband arrives and attacks the killer. With less than five minutes left in the movie, the killer reveals that he is a contract killer who was hired by none other than Marcus to murder Julie. But Marcus’s bewildered look on his face clearly says it is not the case. The contract killer even shows texts that he received from Marcus and promises not to tell anyone. An angry, frustrated Marcus ends up killing the contract killer in rage. And then the bomb drops. It was the AI all along. I wish the makers had at least named the AI Agatha to make my last sentence edgier. And the reason, well, is that she is in love with Marcus and can’t share him with anyone else.
As the AI has made the “why” in the equation clear enough, the only question that remains here is the “how.” Although it is completely ludicrous even by science-fiction standards, I would give I’ll Be Watching some brownie points for making an attempt at establishing the AI’s love for Marcus. The flirtatious way Marcus talks to it did weird me out initially, especially when the AI also talks back the same way. Of course, Marcus is an idiot, so he didn’t get it, but Julie jokingly asked him once if she should be jealous. Going a bit off track here, I also appreciate the idea of bringing the down-syndrome-challenged mailman character to life, first when the cat got spooked and then when Julie was burying the cat. This only added a layer of creepiness, which worked in the movie’s favor. Of course, it all boils down to the point that the AI did it because of its obsession with Marcus, and I’m sorry if I still haven’t clarified the “how.” It is pretty straightforward, actually. Marcus, given the idiot he is, connected both of their phones with the AI system early on in the movie, so the AI had access to their lives, literally doing whatever it wanted. I am not sure if the AI also killed Rebecca by using the same killer to start a chain of events that would lead to it getting the prized idiot in the end. It seems really far-fetched, and if we are to believe that the AI is responsible for Rebecca’s death as well, then that’s just plain lazy writing.
In case you are wondering how AI suddenly got so advanced just like that, then I suggest you check out better science-fiction movies like Ex Machina and The Artifice Girl. I am just kidding, but these two are actually great movies. Anyway, my main grievance with I’ll Be Watching is that it doesn’t reach anywhere by the end. Art doesn’t have any responsibility to serve us a message on a platter, but what is the takeaway from here? Are we supposed to believe AIs are bad and drop Alexa and Siri altogether? If that is what the director was attempting, then I would say the mission has been pretty much unsuccessful.