Plot Synopsis: A photographer is hired by a mysterious third party to stalk & photograph a woman who lives in an adjacent apartment building. Confining himself in a small room, he stalks her, and begins to lose touch with reality and the world around him.
World-renowned film critic Roger Ebert once described the movies as a machine that generates empathy. I partly agree with him. For me, film is the ultimate form of voyeurism, and one of the most effective tools of communication. It allows us to bear witness to the struggles, triumphs, and the tragedies of the human experience. As the audience, we sit back and watch, removed from the situations unfolding before us. We’re the proverbial fly on the wall in this sense. This is certainly the case with the horror genre. We become witnesses to the suffering of others, and at times, enjoy it.
Director Joseph Sims-Dennett’s new film Observance captures all of those elements, and many more. It’s a dark look into the human condition, and one that takes us on a journey of paranoia, obsession, and isolation. It’s heavily routed in classics such as Repulsion, Blow Up, and Rear Window. It manages to be in the same vein as these classics, all the while being an original work.
Our story is centered on a photographer, hired to keep tabs on a woman living across the street from him. The film wastes no time in establishing the themes we’re going to be experiencing. Our lead is someone who has a past that’s a source of torment, yet never fully disclosed. This leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions on the history they’re introduced to. Instead, we get several clues, flashbacks, and dreams. Which, I might add, is much better than a truckload of exposition robbing a character of any intrigue or mystique.
It’s not just the events that take place in the story, but the setting and location in which they occur. They’re what provide this film with its distinctive atmosphere. Rather than extend itself to multiple locations, it allows the majority of events to unfold within the confines of the photographer’s apartment. This abode takes on a dual role within the narrative. It not only serves as our primary location, but also comes to represent the mindset of our lead character. It’s a dishevelled mess, and a place that slowly rots from the inside. It also furthers the dominant theme of isolation, as well as the paranoia of the outside world.
One of the most brilliant aspects you’ll find here is the way in which the narrative is presented. Our story unfolds in 7-day period, as we’ve seen in films such as Thanatomorphose, Nightmare, and Der Todesking. Rather than jumping around from sub plot to sub plot, we’re given a day-by-day descent into madness. It also shifts periodically to our leads dream sequences, which are filmed in black and white to contrast with other events taking place within the story, which of course are in color. As we’ve learned from Ingmar Bergman, contrast is one of the key elements in making a great film. By looking inward, we’re given an in-depth look at ourselves, and the world in which we exist.
Throughout everything that occurs, this film reminds us that we are the audience, and should be guilty of our voyeuristic intentions. The dialogue hammers that point home for anyone watching. With lines such as “Continue watching” “Just Watch” and “You’re here to watch,” the audience takes an active roll as a participant in the voyeurism found within the film. This is something we saw in films such as Funny Games. By bringing us into the events on screen, it resonates with us at a very deep level.
Observance is more than just a film deserving a viewing; It’s a wonderful piece of art, one that deserves any and all praise headed its way.