Watts will star with Bobby Cannavale in Ryan Murphy's adaptation of a disturbing story about a stalker terrorizing a couple who've moved into their dream home.

By Joey Nolfi
June 17, 2021 at 07:26 PM EDT
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Across her 35-year career in movies, Naomi Watts has been told by a preteen ghost that she'll die in seven days, held on for dear life as a giant gorilla tossed her around like a rag doll, and fled the clutches of Mother Nature as a horrific tsunami ravaged her vacation paradise, but no form of big-screen terror can prepare you for the bone-chilling tale she's about to tackle across Netflix's The Watcher.

The upcoming Ryan Murphy-produced limited series is based on the true story of Derek (Bobby Cannavale) and Maria (Watts) Broaddus, an affluent couple who moved into a $1.35 million home of their dreams, only to be terrorized by threatening letters left by an unknown person - or, perhaps, an evil entity flung to suburban Westfield, N.J. from the depths of hell! - who addressed themself only as "The Watcher."

Below, we break down what to expect from the new series, given the insufferably disturbing tale it's based on.

Naomi Watts / Bobby Cannavale
Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale will star in Netflix's 'The Watcher.'
| Credit: John Shearer/Getty Images; Michael Kovac/Getty Images

The setup

Introduced by The Cut - the publication which also first published nonfiction stories that eventually became projects like Jennifer Lopez's Hustlers and Shonda Rhimes' upcoming Anna Delvey series - in 2018, writer Reeves Wiedeman's chronicle follows the Broaddus family as they relocate to their New Jersey paradise in the summer of 2014, where they're met with an onslaught of handwritten notes claiming to be from the abode's decades-long guardian.

"I asked the Woods to bring me young blood and it looks like they listened," one note said, naming the home's previous owners and seeming to reference the Broaddus' three children, then ages 5, 8, and 10. A later note read: "Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested? Better for me. Was your old house too small for the growing family? Or was it greed to bring me your children? Once I know their names I will call to them and draw them too [sic] me."

Derek eventually discussed the ongoing notes with the prior owners, the Woods family, who said they hadn't received a single correspondence across their 23-year tenure at the home - until a few days prior to their move-out date. Clearly, "The Watcher" had been watching, very closely.

The notes became more intrusive as the weeks went on, revealing increasingly intimate details about the family's lives thanks to, as "The Watcher" said, "all of the windows and doors in 657 Boulevard" that allowed them to "watch" and "track" the Broadduses from outside. watch you and track you as you move through the house.

"The workers have been busy and I have been watching you unload carfuls of your personal belongings," one note, which addressed Maria and Derek by name for the first time, said. "The dumpster is a nice touch. Have they found what is in the walls yet? In time they will."

After going to the police, the Broadduses were instructed to keep the news from their neighbors as not to tip off a potential perpetrator that an investigation was ongoing. They were also clued into the odd history of the Langford family, a collection of peculiar, elderly siblings who lived with their 90-year-old mother in the house next door to the Broadduses. They'd occupied the property since the 1960s - the time period in which the father of "The Watcher" first occupied their home as well, according to earlier letters. A subsequent investigation - including nighttime observation periods and lots of secret cameras set up around the perimeter and fake letters to the Langfords informing them that they planned to demolish their home - yielded no concrete findings, and the mystery continued as the family moved in with Maria's parents to escape the horrors of their 657 Boulevard house.

In 2015, they reportedly filed a legal complaint against the Woods family claiming that the prior owners should've informed them of the single letter they received. Their tale eventually went viral, with The Tamron Hall Show and TODAY detailing it on TV.

The aftermath

With no leads on the case, residents who lived nearby began to speculate that the Broadduses had sent the letters themselves in an attempt to either increase the value of their home or get a movie deal (Lifetime eventually made a film inspired by the events, without the couple's involvement).

In 2016, the family put the home back on the market, and it was clear their fellow suburbanites were watching as well - perhaps more so than "The Watcher." Local message boards and Facebook groups erupted with criticism, accusing the family of conjuring the scheme to drive up sale prices, and turning on members of their own online community if their theories became out-of-sync with the dominant ideology.

The Broadduses partnered with a real estate lawyer, who came up with the idea to sell the property to a developer, who'd demolish the home and build two new ones in its place, though a four-hour hearing on the matter ended in the local board rejecting the proposal. They decided to rent the property to another family, who soon found the most threatening note of all:

"Maybe a car accident. Maybe a fire. Maybe something as simple as a mild illness that never seems to go away but makes you fell [sic] sick day after day after day after day after day," the letter read, seeming to indicate manners of death that could befall the Broadduses as revenge. "Maybe the mysterious death of a pet. Loved ones suddenly die. Planes and cars and bicycles crash. Bones break." Soon after, other families in Westfield began receiving letters, too.

And now, the story has fallen into the Oscar-nominated hands of Watts and Murphy, who's proven his hand in crafting appealing American Horror stories across nine seasons of the popular FX anthology.

Why you should be scared

The perpetrator - whoever it is - is apparently still at large, searching for young blood and demonic delight. Have fun sleeping tonight. :)

Hear more on all of today's must-see picks, plus what Kevin Hart has been watching lately, in EW's What to Watch podcast, hosted by Gerrad Hall.

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