Brigid Brannagh searches the darkness outside her Moldovan house in "They're Watching."

Here’s a 94-minute found-footage horror movie that would have worked better as an 8-minute found-footage Funny or Die comedy sketch. They’re Watching, which opens this Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills, blunders off the bat by opening with some of the carnage from the story’s end. It would have been better off starting with the sequence that follows, a spot-on imitation of a cable-TV home-improvement show that follows an American ceramic artist (Brigid Brannagh) who buys an old, secluded farmhouse in the countryside of Moldova, even though her obnoxious soccer-star boyfriend (Cristian Balint) correctly points out that the property is a pile of crap. Six months later, the show’s crew returns to the house to check up on her progress renovating the place, only to be greeted by superstitious locals staring hard at them and murmuring about a witch haunting the forest.

The movie was filmed in Romania, which borders Moldova, though aside from some B-roll shots on the streets of Chisinau, this could just as easily be the American backwoods that we’ve seen thousands of cheap horror flicks set in. The North American crew members are an unpleasant bunch of citified types who whine about having to travel to a place without wi-fi to further their careers. Neither the camera operator (David Alpay) who’s harboring a secret from his years in Afghanistan nor his romance with a pretty production assistant (Mia Faith) is enough to anchor this movie, and the filmmakers can’t conjure enough creepy details to properly build up to the scares, which are mostly in the last 10 minutes. The only real surprise is when that camera guy briefly wins over the Moldovans in a bar — and shocks his fellow crew members — by picking up a violin and playing Brahms with the band, not too badly either.

Worse than the movie not being scary is it not being funny. It’s structured like a comedy, with much of the time spent as the crew stands around and shoots footage of the house. We’re supposed to find their talk amusing, but either writer-directors Jay Lender and Micah Wright are no good at scripting banter or the actors aren’t skilled at ad-libbing. What comedy there is lies in the contrast between the bright optimism of home-renovation shows and the horror that this thing descends into. The best laughs come at the end when a lynch mob descends on the house and the place’s secret is revealed. The special effects get turned loose in this climax, and here’s where the movie hits the sweet spot of black humor that it’s been aiming for the whole time — one crew member sees his dream of becoming a director come true in the most unexpected way. Still, it’s not worth the tedium of what comes before. They’re Watching would have kicked ass as a segment in the V/H/S anthology horror series, but it doesn’t have enough material for a feature.


[box_info]They’re Watching
Starring Mia Faith and David Alpay. Written and directed by Jay Lender and Micah Wright. Rated R.[/box_info]