Who’s watching Watcher? With any luck, a lotta folks.

The tense thriller, lensed in Bucharest, Romania, a locale more closely associated with buffet king, the waddling Steven Seagal, employs a KISS – keep it simple approach: a creep stalks a woman in a high rise, peering through a window across the courtyard of their shared Soviet bloc-style accommodations.

But a straightforward, Hitchcockian affair this is not. Watcher adds the disorienting element of a newcomer protagonist, someone neither versed in the local tongue nor familiar with her surroundings, adding a richness and depth you don’t typically see with this kind of thriller, which can veer into the cheesy even if Brian De Palma is in the director’s chair.

Wedded Jules and Francis are New Yorkers, and he’s returning to the motherland to take on a prominent ad exec position. Fluent in the language, he naturally adapts, but Jules (expertly portrayed by It Follows’ Maika Monroe) is left to her own devices stuck in isolation, dawdling in cinemas and cafes – that is until, a creepy encounter in a grocery store.

Director Chloe Okuno has said the genesis of Watcher is as much inspired by the canonical work of Roman Polanski, for example as it is Lost in Translation. And this most apparent both literally and figurately: she made the stylistic choice NOT to subtitle the Romanian language, which disorients the viewer. And while admittedly annoying at first, it’s a gambit that helps lure you into the story and get lost in Jules’ plight.

It’s the supporting cast who add weight to the mix, the quirky mix of high rise denizens and how they all relate to the main characters, and also the cultural and linguistic misunderstandings.

The writing and performances are sharp, and the denouement handled with a lot of savvy.

***3/4 (out of 5)

Random Acts of Violence

Apropos, as this flick is Canadian, Random Acts of Violence reminds the authors of the quote, “I went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out,” although in this case, it’s “I went to a horror film and a lecture about violence broke out.”

Nobody goes to a horror film to learn anything: they go to be scared, however that manifests itself according to whatever primal fear is being tapped. If you’re exposed to grander/more lofty ideas, a la Dawn of the Dead, Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Fly, that’s a bonus. But in what is arguably the best horror film off all time, Halloween, you learn nothing.

Random Acts of Violence (an odd title as the antagonist takes an event planner approach to his kills, occasionally making the guy in Se7en look off-the-cuff), is about our collective obsession with violence. It’s also about two people essentially profiteering from this obsession. One is Todd, an an artist and creator of Slasherman, who puts the graphic in graphic novel and is more blocked than a frat house party toilet. He takes artistic inspiration from the I-90 killer, only to find he can’t find a whizbang end to his series, this as the killer is using Slasherman itself to influence his malefaction. The other, Todd’s girlfriend, Kathy, is doing a nonfiction work telling the stories of the I-90 killer’s victims.

Todd and Kathy’s protracted discussions about the nature of our infatuation with violence is interesting, but shouldn’t be as tension-fueled as it is, or as much as filmmakers want it to be. After all, they’re both in the business of telling stories about dead people, whose stories wouldn’t be told if they weren’t dead people. More interesting would’ve been Kathy as a support worker for victims of violence who could then question her beau’s unsavory obsessions. Or, how about a vigilante killer going after people he thinks are exploiting the I-90’s handiwork?

That aside for a movie that’s this smart (or at least thinks it is), its character still make stupid decisions – not exactly an upending of genre conventions director Jay Baruchel would have it seem. Case in point: when a book signing attendee stabs the author in the hand at an event, he decides not to call the cops. Why? Who knows? Unless you’re a Crip prospect or a henchman for Tony Soprano, you most certainly would.

Also, one protagonist telling another to just accept his fate and that they’re going to die anyway. What? Talk about underestimating the universal will of humans to persevere, a constant nobody complains about when it appears in every horror film….Defying expectations for its own sake, and you can have Woody Allen out-arm-wrestle The Rock.

Also, while Baruchel personally decries the violence committed against protagonists in whom an audience has invested nothing (at least, if his press materials are to be believed), that’s what happens here, as the I-90 killer, bedecked in a welding mask, lays waste to randos. But a worse sin, cinematically speaking, is that buried in here is a really tight, grisly horror film. It’s deliciously shot, very well acted, super gory and taut. But all the high-minded chatter detracts, rather than adds to what’s here. And if your MO is to frighten in a horror, that’s not a good thing.

Rather than satirizing our violent obsessions a la Dr. Strangelove, this one is firmly in the Waking Life camp: talkity-talk-talk.

Full marks for ambition, far less so in execution.

*** (out of 5)