Strange occurrences plague a small-town detective and his family, as he investigates the disappearance of a young boy.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Jordan Peele’s overrated Get Out (Film Threat Review), but I begrudgingly admit that it set the standard for thriller/horror combinations, incorporating relevant themes into a seemingly-conventional plot. Peele also used his relatively low budget wisely, his film crisply shot and well-structured (if too on-the-nose, far-fetched, self-aware… argh, don’t get me going).
Director Adam Randall is clearly going for Peele’s aesthetic with I See You, his second feature after the ambitious-but-deeply flawed Netflix release iBoy. While I don’t see it taking off at the box-office in the way Get Out did, I See You is a serviceable little spook-fest, with a nifty plot switch halfway through that pulls the rug from under the viewer. On the flipside, it’s both overly cluttered and underdeveloped, as if it needed another layer to make the proceedings coalesce and possess real depth.
The ominous opening sequence, with the camera assuming the POV of a presumably evil force, supplemented by William Arcane’s menacing electronic score, suggests this may be an outright supernatural horror flick. Justin (Riley Caya), a young boy biking through the woods of Smalltown, USA, flies off backwards, as if yanked by some invisible power. The gliding camera then takes us inside the Harper house, delving right into their ordeals.
“…a young boy biking through the woods…flies off backwards, as if yanked by some invisible power.”
Therapist Jackie Harper (Helen Hunt) just did a “shitty thing” (read: infidelity). She tries to connect with her angsty son Connor (Judah Lewis), who screams at her over dinner, “You ruined your family and you should f*****g pay for it!” Her husband, local cop Greg (Jon Tenney), sleeps on the couch. He also investigates Justin’s disappearance, forming a search party that seems to grow more futile by the day.
Strange things start to happen to the Harpers. Repairmen are let into the house by “ghosts”. The TV and the LP player turn on by themselves. All the silverware goes missing. Connor’s hamster escapes from its cage and leads Greg into a trap. It’s as if something were inside the house with them, watching them, playing with them.
The subject of Jackie’s infidelity, needy Todd (Sam Trammell), shows up, proclaiming his love for her. This leads to a series of occurrences that result in a death; convinced that Connor is the culprit, his diligent parents bury the body in the woods… And that’s when the plot swivels, focusing on two rebellious teens, Alec (Owen Teague) and Mindy (Libe Barer), who have a fondness of a thing called “phrogging”. To spoil the rest would be to spoil the bitter, twisty cocktail Randall has concocted.
“…an ambitious effort by a director with a vision that’s still taking shape.”
I See You may be a relevant socio-political critique, akin to Get Out, denouncing society’s invasion of privacy, emphasizing its permeating paranoia, as well as condemning white privilege. It may be about jealousy and its consequences. It may be about relationships and what it is that makes us stay together. Or it may just be me, tacking on themes onto a somewhat-messy canvas.
While Randall maintains tension and a palpable sense of ambiguity, his film also happens to be a bit slow and clumsy, biting off more than it can chew. It especially gets laughably convoluted towards the end, where plausibility is stretched to its ripping point. While the actors all do what they can with their underwritten characters, they’re not nearly fleshed out enough to justify our investment in those mad twists and turns. Hunt particularly gets oddly delegated to a secondary part, which is too bad, as her Jackie is arguably the most intriguing of the bunch.
Nevertheless, this is an ambitious effort by a director with a vision that’s still taking shape. He doesn’t quite succeed at intertwining all the storylines, but with a sharper script, he could really flex his chops. If you haven’t yet seen Jordan Peele’s superior flick – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – watch it first, and if you like it, give this a shot. In other words, you better Get Out before I See You.
I See You (2019) Directed by Adam Randall. Written by Devon Graye. Starring Helen Hunt, Jon Tenney, Judah Lewis, Owen Teague, Libe Barer, Sam Trammell. I See You premiered at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
6 out of 10