I See You, a title that is both a promise and a threat. This horror-thriller is, on its surface, the story of a family in peril. But beneath that, it’s about the fear and desire to be seen.
Directed by Adam Randall, I See You begins with a striking opening sequence that cleverly teases the terrors ahead. An aerial shot surveys a river, lined with lush trees, following it to a small town, where children line up for the ice cream truck and play in a park. Then we follow one of these children, a 12-year-old boy riding his bike into the woods. It seems a peaceful sequence until he reaches a fork in the dirt path. He turns right, but the camera that had coyly been following him veers left. Now, our view of him is less passive, more predatory. We are in the perspective of a mysterious stalker, who races alongside the oblivious boy. The cut jumps around him, above him, behind him, signaling a snare, invisible but closing in. His ignorance of it only enhances our tension. And then something horrid and strange happens. The boy is ripped from his bike, pulled high up into the air by an unseen force, dragged right out of frame. Something sinister lurks in this cozy small town, and it’s up to Detective Greg Harper (Jon Tenney) to track it down. But he’s got troubles of his own.
The Harper home is rife with conflict. Greg and Jackie (Helen Hunt) are teetering on the brink of divorce because she had an affair. Worse yet, their teen son Connor (Judah Lewis) knows, and his rage is getting worrisome. So when things start going missing around the house (silverware, baby pictures, his mom’s favorite mug), the parents look the other way, assuming it’s their son lashing out. But just like in the woods, the cinematography creeps into stalker mode, peering at the Harpers from behind doorways and around corners, as if someone is watching. More strange things will happen. The TV and record players will burst to life unexpectedly. Then things turn violent. As the clues stack up, it becomes clear that there’s a connection between the predator in the woods and the evil in the Harper home.
Written by Devon Graye, I See You is a clever horror-thriller that plays a bit of a bait-and-switch game with its subgenres. But to keep its secrets, I really shouldn’t say much more. I will say this, it’s probably not what you’re expecting. For one thing, you might assume that Helen Hunt plays the protagonist, as she’s the movie’s biggest name, the only person featured in its released image, and the character who is introduced as desperately in need of redemption. However, this is not ultimately a movie about its female characters. In the second act, things shift dramatically, which is a bold move. But it’s not entirely one that pays off, as some of the film’s most sympathetic figures get sidelined for a violent but clumsy climax.
Still, I See You is worth the watch. It has the eerie chills of a haunted house movie with the spiking suspense of a crime-drama. And as it begins to spill its secrets, it offers an interesting exploration of the politics of privilege, who we choose to see and what we choose to ignore.
I See You made its world premiere at SXSW.
Header Image Source: Zodiac Features