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Now streaming on Netflix, The Watcher is a chilling limited series based on the twisted real-life events surrounding an idyllic family home in Westfield, New Jersey, and a mysterious stalker known only as “The Watcher.” Adapted by creators Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan and starring Naomi Watts, Bobby Cannavale, Jennifer Coolidge and others, the end result is a sinister and terrifying story that gives the true-crime genre a spooky and psychological twist.
“It’s definitely a psychological trip,” says Cannavale, who plays one-half of the couple at the center of the story. “And it’s got a scary, haunted house vibe about it.”
“It’s pretty scary. It’s pretty dark. It’s pretty suspenseful,” says Henry Hunter Hall, who plays a technician named Dakota hired to install extra security on the house, while Terry Kinney, who plays one of several creepy neighbors named Jasper Winslow, adds that the series takes the real-life source material and “steps it up a little.”
That source is the wildly fascinating and unsettling events first reported by New York Magazine, which recounted what happened to Derek and Maria Broaddus and their kids after they bought the $1.3 million, six-bedroom house at 657 Boulevard.
Not long after they slowly started moving in as they began much-needed renovations on the home, the family received the first of many letters from “The Watcher,” who proclaimed that he, his father and his grandfather had all been tasked with keeping an eye on the 110-year-old property. From there, the letters grew more suspicious as the sender included details about the family, their renovations and other things that only someone stalking the house day after day could really know.
After a while, the family turned to the police and even hired their own private investigator to find the source of the unwanted letters, with many of their newfound neighbors, who mostly seemed concerned with the reputation of the area, becoming suspects in the case. However, the Broaddus family was never able to find the source of the letter, with Derek and Maria eventually forced to abandon their dream home and take a financial loss on the way out.
Of course, this being a “Ryan Murphy production,” the Netflix scripted version of events uses the article as a jumping off point to tell its own stalker story about a haunted house, creepy neighbors and plenty of unexplained occurrences in and outside of the home. “This incredible cast is filled with really quirky, interesting characters [that] really bring a dynamic and all the haunting aspects that you need in a story like this,” Watts says.
Here, Cannavale and Watts play Dean and Nora Brannock, a couple who put all of their savings into securing the perfect house on the perfect block only to realize the neighborhood is not as welcoming as it seems. Among the increasingly suspicious neighbors, there’s a kooky older lady named Pearl (Mia Farrow) and her brother, Jasper (Kinney), who is fascinated with the home’s dumbwaiter; the nosy and combative couple Mitch (Richard Kind) and Mo (Margo Martindale); and the house’s snobby and superior real estate agent aptly named Karen (Coolidge).
“He always has his signature on everything and this particular town of Westfield, New Jersey, had a couple events many years apart that were both kind of extraordinary and I think he utilized that in his storytelling, in the narrative as much as he could,” Kinney says of Murphy’s take on reality.
“It’s interesting because we know the story comes from an original source. The reality within that has been changed to make this fictional world around that core thing, which is about safety, being safe, looking after your family [and] who you trust,” says Noma Dumezweni, who appears as private investigator Theodora Birch, a character written for the series.
“It’s definitely gonna take some twists and turns,” Watts says, with Cannavale teasing that “your psyche and sense of security gets messed with.”
That said, The Watcher is ultimately about “how [a family] chased this dream for so long, [how] they finally got it, this beautiful home and then [how] everything comes unraveled,” Watts says.
“It’s about things that I think we can all relate to. You know, having that sense of loss of power and control,” Cannavale says. “That sense of losing any control and power over keeping your family safe is a scary idea that I think is something we’[ve all become] familiar with in the last few years.”
And if you’re able to make it through in one sitting, the cast says it’s worth the binge. “It’s one of those great shows,” offers Christopher McDonald, who plays Detective Rourke Chamberland, who initially doesn’t take the Brannocks' suspicions seriously. “It was just incredible to see how it all fits together and it’s totally bingeable.”
Not only that, but you can “then watch it again and revisit it,” Hall says, revealing that Murphy incorporated a number of Easter eggs throughout the series. “There’s a lot of clues.”