If you had to guess, how many times would you say you’ve seen a movie about a character who finds themself in an unfamiliar and isolated location being hunted by nefarious ill-wishers? Fifty? A hundred? A thousand? There is no wrong answer because you’ve seen it twice that. Reading the description of a film that uses some combination of those words now feels like a game of Mad Libs to me. Maybe it’s a cabin. Maybe it’s an old hotel. Maybe it’s the freaking catacombs of Paris, but we been there and we played this game a dozen times before.
I don’t deny the cave-person entrenched reasons why this story keeps getting re-told to us after all this time and all these iterations. So, when a movie comes along that hits those notes but makes such beautiful music out of them I’ll admit, I do get a little bit giddy. And I’m giddy about See For Me, Randall Okita’s atmospheric and terrifically tense new thriller out of Tribeca Festival 2021, which re-stages our ol’ well-trodden tune with flashes of much needed moral ambiguity and super clever ingenuity. This one’s real super-duper effective, you guys!
Sophie (Skyler Davenport, rocking some serious “young Sarah Polley” vibes) was a champion skier until she lost her eyesight. Now, she cat-sits for rich strangers who hire her online. Oh and to make an extra few bucks here and there, she nicks expensive things from their houses that they might not miss. (And even if they did miss them, they wouldn’t think of accusing a blind girl of stealing them.) Right off the bat, See For Me isn’t interested in treating Sophie as some helpless invalid stereotype. What comes to bite her in the butt isn’t her blindness; it isn’t even that she refuses to ask for help out of some overinflated sense of self-reliance, because Sophie does ask for help when she needs it. No, what bites Miss Sophie in the butt is what might bite any of us in the butt, sight or no sight. Those teeth belong to being in the wrong place at the hella wrong time…and to good old-fashioned greed.
Cut to Sophie’s first night in some rich divorcée’s gorgeous mountain-side mansion. There are Movie Dream Homes and then there is This Place, my god! After she’s fed the cat and climbed into bed, a bunch of criminals shows up in the middle of the night to rob the place. And to call what happens over the next hour or so “an epic game of cat and mouse” might ring a little goofy given that I just stated it’s an actual, literal cat that brought Sophie to this house in the first place. But an epic game of cat and mouse it is all the same, only with the cat and the mice exchanging places depending on who’s got the upper hand—the little blind girl or the pack of big manly thugs (led by Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates).
Thankfully, Sophie has been dealt a trump card, thanks to an app that her mother has steered her toward: “See For Me.” It connects the visually impaired with tele-helpers who look through the user’s phone’s camera and serve as a guide. After accidentally locking herself out of the house earlier in the day (before the bad guys show up), Sophie has already made fast friends with Kelly (a winningly charming Jessica Parker Kennedy), a former army veteran who spends all her time—when not helping the blind—playing first-person shooting games online… and if you can suss out where these pieces are falling I dare you not to get goosebumps like I did. It’s an ingenious use of technology, integrating cellphones into the narrative in ways that often thwart less imaginative filmmakers who remain scared of them, and it made me so happy I might have cackled. This is how you do it!
Besides that brilliant stroke, what See For Me has going for it is the thing that always makes the difference with these stories that’ve been so constant in our collective storytelling for so long, what raises them from the routine to the terrific: that is its characters and the actors embodying them. I hesitate to carry on about the sense of authenticity that Davenport, who is visually impaired in real life, brings to the screen, but it’s impossible not to think there’s not an aura of lived-in legitimacy in the way they move and experience the space that we really need to feel, to believe, for the film to work as well as it works. On top of that, Davenport’s also immensely appealing, a winning find. So is Kennedy, coming at us from the other side of the phone. Their rapport rings palpable, and juices this thing up to eleven. You know just give me some folks to root for, some twists, turns, some tension, a jump scare or five, and you’ll have a happy camper on your hands. I plan on re-camping back with See For Me as many times as I can make the trip.
See For Me made its Online World Premiere at Tribeca Festival 2021.
Image sources (in order of posting): Elle Driver,