The Public Reviews

"The cast are uniformly excellent. Ian Curley is a class act, and gives an unselfish and understated performance as the hapless Marek. As with all O’Byrne’s characters, we get the feeling that this man has a wealth of stories to tell, and this is merely one of them. There is a fabulous turn from David Edward-Robertson as Danny, an embittered ex fireman nursing an intense hatred of Frank Morgan, and O’Byrne himself plays Morgan with lashings of steely-eyed charm that the likes of Jason Statham would kill to have an ounce of.

‘The Watcher’ is a perfectly formed gem of a film, and deserves a much wider audience. This is where the real heart of British film-making beats loud and strong. Forget the mainstream trash clogging up screen after screen at the local multiplex, and do yourself a big favour. Who watches ‘The Watcher’? Everybody should!"

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Steve Balshaw

(Salford Film Festival & Grimm Up North Festival Programmer)

"Halloween, on a housing estate in Salford. Young gang-bangers in blank, ghostly white masks prowl the streets, jacking cars and looking for trouble. Freak atmospheric conditions are affecting CCTV and car radio alike. Good-hearted Polish cab driver Marek is having trouble communicating with his Controller, and drives around the estate increasingly uncertain of where he is. A homeless man sits by a burning brazier, face grim, eyes haunted. A troubled-looking man stands in the street, in front of a house, his shoulders hunched, keeping watch or standing guard, while an anxious child and her mother in turn watch him. A cold-eyed, hard-faced man watches the house in turn.

The stage is set for a tale of ghosts, both real and metaphorical, and the night on which all of those ghosts make their presence felt.

THE WATCHER is the latest episode in Actor-Writer-Director Joe O’Byrne’s cycle of stories, films and plays set in the fictional Paradise Heights estate. Previous instalments have included the films MY NAME IS FRANK MORGAN and LOOKING FOR LUCKY, and the plays THE BENCH and RANK. THE WATCHER is a companion piece to RANK, set on the same night, and exploring some of the same events from a very different angle. But it is also a stand-alone piece - an effectively eerie little ghost story, with a powerful emotional undertow. All of the film’s characters are implicated one way or another in a past crime, be it as victims, perpetrators, or simply as those who stood by and allowed the terrible events to occur out of fear of involvement. None can forget, nor ever forgive themselves, least of all on this night of the year, when all the ghosts and unclean things walk. O’Byrne uses the supernatural primarily as a metaphor to explore themes of guilt, moral weakness, failure, regret and loss. But he does not do so at the expense of creating an effective ghost story. The film has a jaw-dropping final twist that shakes the viewer’s perception of everything that has gone before, moving the film back into the realms of the supernatural, but only to underline the full tragedy of the events depicted.

The film is tightly directed by O’Byrne from his own screenplay, and beautifully and atmospherically shot by Colin Warhurst, making striking use of a DSLR camera to create a shadowy chiaroscuro cityscape, lit by fires, car headlights and the occasional streetlamp. The cast is strong throughout, but particular kudos must go to the lead turns from Ian Curley as the nervous, superstitious Marek, David Edward-Robertson as the embittered homeless man, Danny, and from O’Byrne himself as the vicious gang boss Frank Morgan.

The result is an effective and affecting modern urban ghost story, both creepy and poignant. Though a stand-alone piece, it also serves as a fine introduction to the world of O’Byrne’s Paradise Heights cycle , knowledge of which can only add to one’s enjoyment of the film. And after seeing this, if you don’t know the other works in the cycle already, you will certainly want to track them down very soon."

Cultural Shenanigans

"Filmed in the dark streets of Manchester and Salford, The Watcher has a pervading atmosphere of menace which is sustained throughout. From the taxi driver’s uncertainty about starting his shift, to a little girl playing with her toys at her bedroom window and the angry and frightened callers to a late-night local radio phone-in.

Dialogue is spare; the phone-in provides commentary to set the scene of fear and intimidation on a whole estate, and an increasingly fraught and anxious conversation under a railway arch becomes a disturbingly intense monologue."

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