Observance is a psychological thriller that focuses not so much on the mystery being uncovered by a private investigator but the isolation and fragility of the mind. Many lines are drawn around the fantasy and reality only to be entirely erased and blurred into a slow burn descent into madness. Emphasis on the slow, light on the burn… not every flame can carry such a pace for ninety minutes.
Parker is a conflicted character. He’s back loaded by the grief of his dead child and marriage that’s fallen apart from it. Strapped for cash, he’s taken a surveillance gig where he will spend three days watching a woman with his camera. Nothing is explained as to why, only to watch and report. It all seems rather mundane, she lives like any woman in a luxury apartment with a doctor boyfriend. But it’s this boredom that curses Parker, his mind becomes unguarded and inner thoughts of grief and depression resurge. He dreams of his dead son, his ex wife and suddenly finds himself inflicted by injuries. A rusty nail jabs him, a horrid burn mark appears on his back. Things feel funny and he has nothing to report about his subject. He’s then told that his client wants him to stay for four more days. Why? Who is she? What’s going to happen to her? Is she in danger? Is he apart of that danger? Parker begins to wonder as his clients’ denials begin to build a sense of paranoia. The job continues and Parker begins to hear things inside his hideout, he becomes sick and starts to see things in the woman’s house that she may not be aware of. Something is not right and Parker is stranded on an island of paranoia that brings about a surprising and open ended downfall.
The pace of this film is dead set on it’s slow burn which works for the intentions of this movie. At many points it feels like nothing is happening, but in truth this boredom is a false sense of security that the film does a good job at rooting itself in. Holed up in a dilapidated apartment with newspapers taped over the windows and no signs of running water, there is nowhere for Parker to turn but his camera. And nothing even happens there for quite some time. Much of the film is spent wondering what the hell is going on until suddenly everything changes. We change perspectives from the voyeur to the subject and see from her perspective that there is indeed a danger, but is it across the street where that camera has been left in the window? There’s only one way to find out and it’s the last ten minutes of the film. Which will still leave you wondering, what the hell just happened?
Observance seems very intent on leaving us out in the cold to figure it out on our own but there isn’t exactly enough in here to be figured out. Where the film strives best is building its emotional and psychological structures and slowly tearing them down but when it comes to the actual mystery it remains only that. None of the questions are answered, all clues lead to nowhere and it seems improbable that this was all according to some plan. That said, it is a very well crafted movie. The visuals are very striking and the editing sets a slow burn pacing that builds a sense of dread and suspense. If only it had more of a fire to burn off of it would make for an excellent post-modern version of Coppola’s The Conversation.